Gibney eyes Newbury for Lion
Tom Gibney will bid to plunder another valuable prize with his Irish Grand National hero Lion Na Bearnai in Newbury's Hennessy Gold Cup on Saturday week, though the Kells-based handler has run out of time to get a prep run into his stable star.
Despite training just a handful of horses, the former amateur rider produced his 10-year-old to cause two of the biggest shocks of last season, when that famous 33/1 triumph in the €142,500 Fairyhouse showpiece was preceded by a 50/1 coup in Navan's Grade Two Ten Up Novice Chase. Gibney enjoyed his first winner since then – just his sixth in all – when Orpheus Valley obliged at Roscommon last month and has now set his sights on the prestigious December 1 three-miler.
"We're looking to go to Newbury," 38-year-old Gibney confirmed. "I'd wanted to give him a run before, but it didn't work out – we had a bug in the yard for a fortnight. I hope I've done plenty of work with him, but I'd be hopeful rather than confident."
Gibney's exploits with Lion Na Bearnai have earned him a nomination for the Outstanding Achievement gong at next month's Horse Racing Ireland awards. Despite his modest-sized operation – Lion Na Bearnai was his only runner between November 2011 and last August – he has a reputation for placing his horses shrewdly.
Should he mastermind a first Irish victory in the Hennessy since Bright Highway in 1980, it would be another brilliant achievement for his fledgling stable. A general 25/1 shot in the ante-post market, Lion Na Bearnai will race off a 13lb higher mark than at Fairyhouse, which leaves him with 10st 8lbs.
He is one of six Irish entries, along with First Lieutenant (11st 5lb), Muirhead (10st 4lb), Magnanimity (10st 3lb), Away We Go (9st 1lb) and Bundle Of Fun (8st 12lb). As low as 20/1, the Dessie Hughes-trained Magnanimity is the shortest priced potential raider, with Barry Geraghty's likely mount Bobs Worth the 5/1 favourite.
Meanwhile, Templemore's John Ryan, who runs a similarly tight ship, has the Grade Two Hilly Way Chase at Cork eight days later in mind for his smart chaser Foildubh. A respectable third to Flementsar in the Fortria, Ryan's charge holds an ambitious King George entry at Kempton.
Eric McNamara has also revealed that Questions Answered is Leopardstown-bound for the Paddy Power Handicap Chase, following his commendable fifth in the same sponsor's Cheltenham feature on Saturday.