Mullins opens door for Esprit tilt at Hennessy
The prospect of Quel Esprit stepping up in class for the Hennessy Gold Cup appeared to increase yesterday, as Willie Mullins' grey was one of three notable forfeits from next Thursday's Goffs Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park.
In all, 17 from an original entry of 48 were scratched from the prestigious three-mile handicap. Sadly, the 10-year-olds Beautiful Sound and Alpha Ridge, the two other notable omissions, were both reported by their respective trainers to have died yesterday.
Paul Nolan revealed that Alpha Ridge, a five-time winner which landed the Galmoy Hurdle on Thursday's card in 2009, suffered a fatal heart attack on the gallops in the morning. Later on, Gordon Elliott tweeted that a decision had been made to humanely destroy Beautiful Sound.
Third in the Byrne Group Plate at Cheltenham in March and narrowly denied on his last start at the Punchestown Festival in May, the Presenting gelding had been suffering from what Elliott described as a "persistent cancerous growth on his leg."
He tweeted: "Heartbreaking decision made today to put down one of our top staying chasers. Very hard decision, but along with his owners we had to do what was best for him."
Mullins, who floated the possibility of Quel Esprit tackling the Hennessy at Leopardstown on February 12 after the horse impressed at Thurles recently, has five in the Thyestes, including the new joint-market leader On His Own, as well as the third favourite Prince De Beauchene. Ted Walsh's Seabass shares favouritism with On His Own at 8/1.
On what promises to be an excellent card at Gowran, Mullins' Final Approach, Mikael D'Haguenet, Mourad and Zaidpour are all in the Galmoy. Colm Murphy's star mare Voler La Vedette heads the 12 entries for the Grade Two, and his talented eight-year-old also features among the 34 names that have been unveiled for the World Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Mullins is likewise well represented in the three-mile showpiece on March 15. Of the 11 Irish-trained contenders, the champion trainer is responsible for eight, which include his Galmoy four, along with Thousand Stars, Quevega, Flat Out and So Young. Gordon Elliott's 2011 Coral Cup hero Carlito Brigante and Noel Meade's Prima Vista are the remaining Irish hopefuls that could take on the three-time winner Big Buck's.
Forpadydeplaster, meanwhile, has been declared for tomorrow's Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot. Tom Cooper's 10-year-old is due to be ridden by the Tralee handler's son Bryan, and is a 14/1 shot to topple the likes of top novice Al Ferof, Finian's Rainbow and Wishfull Thinking in the two-mile Grade One.