Double blow for Hennessy
LEOPARDSTOWN was dealt a double blow yesterday ahead of Sunday's Hennessy Gold Cup, with two of our best hopes -- Quito De La Roque and Jessies Dream -- being forced to miss the showpiece event.
Colm Murphy last night ruled out his Quito De La Roque due to a bad scope after Gordon Elliott had earlier revealed that Jessies Dream had worked badly during the morning and could miss the rest of the season.
Having gone agonisingly close when second to Bostons Angel at Cheltenham last March, Jessies Dream's campaign was being tailored specifically around next month's Gold Cup, but a poor showing on the gallops forced Elliott to scrap plans for the nine-year-old to make its seasonal reappearance in Sunday's Grade One.
"Following a very disappointing display in his last piece of work before the Hennessy, Jessies Dream will not run on Sunday," Elliott reported. "There was no sparkle. I'm not sure he will make the track at all this season."
So far, not one of the first four home in the 2011 RSA has since managed to win. That is in stark contrast to the race's three casualties.
Quel Esprit, a faller when still in contention at the third-last fence, is unbeaten in two this term, and is the 2/1 favourite to deliver Willie Mullins an eighth victory in the Hennessy. His stablemate Mikael D'Haguenet, also a faller at Cheltenham, has won three on the spin over hurdles, while David Bridgwater's The Giant Bolster, which unseated at the first fence, bounced back to form with a stunning win at Cheltenham recently.
The Jessica Harrington-trained Bostons Angel, third at Sandown after unseating on its Down Royal reappearance, will sport headgear in Sunday's feature.
Things are slightly less critical for Dessie Hughes' Magnanimity, which required surgery after fracturing a joint when fourth to Bostons Angel at Prestbury Park. While ultimately well held when a tired eighth in the Lexus Chase on his return over Christmas, the gelding showed up well for a long way. Hughes yesterday reaffirmed his satisfaction with that performance, and is hopeful that Magnanimity can earn his place in next month's Cheltenham showpiece this weekend.
"He was still there going to the second-last in the Lexus, so I was very pleased with him," the Curragh handler said of the eight-year-old, a top-priced 16/1 for the Hennessy. "We'd love to run him in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, so I'd be disappointed if he isn't thereabouts on Sunday."
Hughes has more modest expectations of Roberto Goldback. Fourth in the Lexus, the 10-year-old was only third behind Apt Approach at Thurles last time, and is another that will be tried in headgear in the Hennessy.
"While he ran well in the Lexus, he looks about 7lb below a Grade One horse," said Hughes.
Roberto Goldback is one of five that the trainer has engaged in the Grand National, and Hughes confirmed him an intended runner at Aintree. Vic Venturi, twice successful in point-to-points lately, could have its third stab at the Liverpool spectacle on April 14.
The 12-year-old will first tackle the Raymond Smith Memorial Hunters' Chase on Sunday, with a tilt at next month's Foxhunters' a possibility en route to the National. Hughes also had news of the year-older Black Apalachi, runner-up to Don't Push It at Liverpool when last seen on the racecourse nearly two years ago.
"Black Apalachi picked up a tendon injury around this time last year," he said, "but he is back in and in good form now. The plan is to have two runs before Aintree, starting in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse on February 25. He is 13, so I'm hoping the handicapper takes that into account."
Hughes added that Lyreen Legend, second to Boston Bob at Leopardstown, will skip Cheltenham in favour of the Michael Purcell Novice Hurdle at Thurles on March 1. However, he remains confident that Minsk, impressive winner of the Irish Cesarewitch on its final start for John Oxx, will face the starter for the Triumph Hurdle.
A top-priced 10/1 for the Cheltenham contest, the son of Dalakhani is set to make its hurdling bow in the Winning Fair Hurdle at Fairyhouse on the same day as the Bobbyjo.
"He needed a break when I got him," Hughes said, "so I always knew it was going to be tight. If he's very impressive at Fairyhouse, and I won't be surprised if he is, then we should be okay for Cheltenham. He's a lovely horse and jumps well, but I'd rather have him 100pc ready to do himself justice than leave him needing a run."