Meade sets Festival target for Apache Stronghold
Noel Meade has confirmed that Sunday's Grade One winner Apache Stronghold will be aimed at the JLT Novices' Chase at Cheltenham, while AP McCoy's big-race prospects at what will be his final Festival were dented with Jonjo O'Neill describing More Of That as an "unlikely" runner.
Meade, who issued upbeat bulletins on his Gold Cup contender Road To Riches and his World Hurdle fancy Monksland, enjoyed his third top-level triumph of the season when a Paul Carberry masterclass enabled Apache Stronghold nail Valseur Lido up the Leopardstown run-in in the Flogas Novices' Chase.
With entries in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy as well as the RSA Chase, the seven-year-old had options at the Festival. However, he has done most of his winning over Sunday's intermediate trip of two miles and five furlongs, and Meade feels that the Grade One over that trip will suit him best.
"He has come out of the race in good form," the Co Meath handler said yesterday of Apache Stronghold, which is a general 7/1 third favourite for the JLT.
"We're very happy with him and he seems really well. All going well, he'll go straight for the JLT. I think two-and-a-half looks about right for now."
Meade's chances of landing the Ladbrokes World Hurdle might have improved considerably last night after it emerged that the JP McManus-owned reigning title-holder More Of That is a doubtful runner after bursting a blood vessel during a piece of work yesterday morning.
O'Neill's son of Beneficial suffered a first defeat in six starts when beaten 25 lengths by Medinas in soft ground on its Newbury comeback in November. He sported a tongue tie for a first time on that occasion and O'Neill later revealed that he had long held concerns about the horse's breathing. Despite not being seen on the track since then, More Of That still headed the World Hurdle market at as low 3/1.
"As part of his build-up to Cheltenham, More Of That galloped at Compton this morning with AP in the saddle and pleased everyone with his work," O'Neill was reported as saying on racingpost.com last night.
"But when he returned to the yard he was found to have bled, and, as things stand, I would have to say that he is now an unlikely runner at Cheltenham, as time is not on our side."
While this is bad news for McCoy, the perennial champion continued on his winning ways at Chepstow where he partnered O'Neill's Sebastian Beach to a smooth success in the opening maiden hurdle.
Should More Of That not defend his crown, the three-mile Grade One would look even more open than it did already, and Monksland, chinned by Dedigout in the Galmoy Hurdle last month, is certainly be a contender.
"He just got beat the last day and I'd have preferred it if he'd won, obviously," Meade said of the eight-year-old, which is another son of Beneficial. "But he seems well and all going well he'll go straight to the World Hurdle."
Of his Lexus Chase hero Road To Riches, a general 8/1 joint-second favourite for the Gold Cup, Meade added: "He seems in good form and we're where we want to be at this stage. I don't think anything has happened (in the subsequent trials) that is going to make any change to us. We're happy with how things are going, so hopefully it continues that way."
Meanwhile, there were no massive surprises at yesterday's forfeit stage for the Festival's championship events, with O'Neill's Irish Grand National victor Shutthefrontdoor the main absentee from the Gold Cup, in which 24 stood their ground.
There are two more than that left in the Champion Chase and a further one in the World Hurdle, while 35 remain in the Ryanair Chase and just 16 in the Champion Hurdle.