Saturday 1 October 2016

O'Leary eager to see the Don settle scores

Published 15/04/2016 | 02:30

Willie Mullins receives the Philips Manager of the Month award for March from Cel O’Reilly of Philips Ireland
Willie Mullins receives the Philips Manager of the Month award for March from Cel O’Reilly of Philips Ireland

Michael O'Leary's equine aeroplanes have been providing him with the most lucrative spell of his tenure as an owner, and he is relishing the prospect of a definitive Punchestown clash between his Gold Cup hero Don Cossack, Cue Card and Vautour.

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Despite each of the exceptional chasers enjoying stunning triumphs at Cheltenham or Aintree, circumstances have conspired to leave racing fans with as many questions as answers.

Colin Tizzard's Cue Card, which thwarted Vautour in a thrilling King George when Don Cossack crashed two-out, went some way to erasing the memory of his Gold Cup fall with an emphatic triumph in last week's Bowl.

The following day in Liverpool, it was Vautour's turn to fall, having danced round Cheltenham in majestic style to claim O'Leary's Ryanair Chase.

Don Cossack was a brilliant winner of the Gold Cup for Bryan Cooper.

In the end, though, he didn't have to beat Cue Card or Vautour, and O'Leary is as eager for Gordon Elliott's charge to get the chance to end all debate in the Bibby Financial Services Gold Cup.

"We don't hide away and this is the big decider - it will be a hell of race," O'Leary says of the April 27 event.

"All three are probably best on good ground, so I hope the going is perfect for them so that they can all shine.

"You had to be really impressed with Cue Card at Aintree, he's a fantastic horse.

"Perhaps a flat track and three miles is his cup of tea, whereas this race is over three miles and a furlong. We wouldn't swap our fellow and they wouldn't swap theirs. With Vautour in there as well, it's just a fabulous race."

As there is no two-and-a-half-mile option at Punchestown, the Gold Cup or the two-mile BoyleSports Champion Chase are Willie Mullins' options for Vautour, which is a top-priced 4/1 for the Gold Cup behind Don Cossack (7/4) and Cue Card (2/1).

With Un De Sceaux a potential starter in the shorter Grade One, the three-miler might well be where Vautour ends up, although nothing is confirmed, with the small matter of Mullins's bid for the British trainers' championship also a factor. Djakadam, second in the Gold Cup and third to Cue Card and Don Poli at Aintree, is another potential runner, though Mullins has suggested that Don Poli is a more likely starter.

O'Leary was equivocal on Don Poli, but Noel Meade's Ryanair third Road To Riches will turn up. "Road To Riches definitely runs," added O'Leary.

"That's more his trip and it's all about the ground with him. I don't know with Don Poli. There's nowhere else for him and he could run."

The champion owner, who leads JP McManus in the Irish and English owners' championships, confirmed that facile Aintree winner Apple's Jade will run in the AES Champion Four-year-olds' Hurdle, and that Identity Thief would take on Annie Power in the Betdaq Champion Hurdle.

O'Leary and Mullins will seek to extend their British championship leads with Measureofmydreams in tomorrow's Scottish Grand National.

Cooper's mount heads the betting for the £210,000 Ayr contest at 9/1, and he will be joined by O'Leary's Folsom Blue, which will be ridden by Andrew Ring in its quest to complete a sensational Grand National treble for the owner and Mouse Morris.

McManus and Elliott's Cause Of Causes tops the weights, with Stuart Crawford's Fine Rightly and Tony Martin's Heathfield also among 32 declarations. At Ayr today, Elliott, Crawford and Mullins have a runner each.

Irish Independent

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