Ground conditions to resolve Cossack's headgear dilemma
Gordon Elliott's decision over whether or not to equip his Timico Gold Cup joint-favourite Don Cossack with first-time headgear at Cheltenham will depend on what ground conditions are like at Prestbury Park next month.
In its last 10 completed starts, Don Cossack's sole defeat came when he finished a running-on third in last year's Ryanair Chase. He subsequently progressed into the highest rated chaser in training, although Cue Card is now rated a pound higher on a mark of 176.
Having laboured at times prior to falling two-out in the King George VI Chase that saw Cue Card thwart Vautour, Don Cossack again raced lazily when enjoying a relatively easy win in lesser company at Thurles.
Elliott feels that his Gigginstown Stud-owned nine-year-old travels more fluidly on better ground, so that is playing a large part in his thinking. The official going at Cheltenham is currently being given as heavy.
"He is in great form," Elliott told the Irish Independent of Don Cossack yesterday. "He has been freshened up since Thurles and we will just keep him ticking over now. Chances are that he will have a gallop somewhere, maybe Leopardstown, but that would be it.
"We'll wait until closer the time to see what the ground is like. If the ground is decent, I will probably leave any headgear off. In my head, I am thinking that he will travel better on better ground, so we'll just have to see."
With Don Poli, Saturday's Irish Gold Cup casualty Valseur Lido and Road To Riches also in the mix, Gigginstown manager Eddie O'Leary has stressed that the division of the horses between the Gold Cup and Ryanair Chase that is sponsored by his brother Michael will be finalised late, though there is a sense that Don Cossack and Don Poli have secured their berth in the marquee event.
O'Leary also defended the tactics deployed on Road To Riches in the Irish Gold Cup, when the odds-on favourite faded under Bryan Cooper after being ridden aggressively on the final circuit.
"Bryan rode him as he saw fit and that's grand for us," O'Leary reflected. "He rode him the same way at Cheltenham last year and he finished third in the Gold Cup. It's just a ground issue.
"The ground was brutal in Leopardstown and that was never going to suit him, so we're not despondent. Like all of them, it will be between the Gold Cup and the Ryanair, and we'll decide during the week of the race. It will depend on the health of the two Dons and the ground. Whether Valseur Lido runs in the Gold Cup or the Ryanair we'll wait and see, but he was running a super race and he has thrown his hat into the ring."
Elliott reiterated that Gigginstown's Prince Of Scars would not go to Cheltenham for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle if the ground isn't sufficiently soft, but said that he could yet contest Sunday's Boyne Hurdle at Navan.
He also indicated that the Supreme Novices' Hurdle might be preferred over the Neptune for Tombstone, which was second to Bleu Et Rouge on Saturday.
"We are leaning a little bit more towards the Supreme with Tombstone now," Elliott stated. "He probably got beaten by a better horse on Saturday and outstayed; better ground at Cheltenham would suit him too."
Elliott indicated that the prevailing testing conditions could mean that The Game Changer will skip his engagements this weekend and head straight for the Arkle Trophy.
Eddie Harty, though, has suggested his smart JP McManus-owned duo Minella Foru and Copy That will more than likely skip Cheltenham, with valuable handicaps at the Fairyhouse and Punchestown festivals being considered.
"People keep mentioning the Irish Grand National for Minella Foru, but that's not under consideration in my book, either," Harty said of his Paddy Power Chase victor. "Maybe next year we will look at those longer races, but for me it's not on the agenda for now."
Meanwhile, Nina Carberry will be reassessed next week before learning more about when she will be fit to ride again, having torn a ligament in her back last week.