O'Leary tells Cooper to wait before making Gold Cup pick
Michael O'Leary, the owner who could end up belying the old maxim that if you think you have three Derby horses you probably have none, will encourage Bryan Cooper to wait until the 11th hour to choose his Gold Cup mount.
In Don Cossack, Don Poli and Road To Riches, the Ryanair supremo has three of the leading contenders for jump racing's most sought-after prize. His Gigginstown House Stud racing arm won the sport's Holy Grail with War Of Attrition 10 years ago, and Sir Des Champs filled the runner-up berth for him in 2013.
In 2015, Road To Riches was a gallant third on unsuitably soft ground having been ridden aggressively to keep tabs on the eventual winner, Coneygree. Noel Meade's improved nine-year-old, which hasn't been seen since his superlative comeback in the Clonmel Oil Chase on November 12, is the only one of Gigginstown's star trio that has next month's Irish Gold Cup as a confirmed target. As a 14/1 shot for the main event in March, he is the outsider of the three elite players that Cooper must choose between in his role as Gigginstown's retained jockey.
Don Cossack, an 11/2 second-favourite behind Djakadam, is the firm's market leader, while bookmaker Paddy Power make Gordon Elliott's charge - which got back to winning ways in workmanlike fashion at Thurles last week - a 1/2 favourite to be Cooper's mount in the big race on March 18.
Don Cossack will go straight to Cheltenham, but there is a slight chance that Willie Mullins will let Don Poli take his chance in the February 6 Grade One at Leopardstown en route to the Festival.
Should all three have the Gold Cup rather than the Ryanair Chase as their ultimate target and get there safely, Cooper will have a massive dilemma.
"If I was Bryan, I'd leave it until just before declaration time for the Gold Cup," O'Leary mused of what is a fine problem to have. "There are plenty of good jockeys around, so we're not going to be short of options."
With Paul Carberry, who won a Grade One on Road To Riches at Down Royal last season, ruled out of the Festival after breaking his leg again, one of the obvious substitutes for Meade's contender is out of the equation.
Cooper's predecessor Davy Russell could be in the mix for a spare once again, especially if Cooper vacates the mount aboard Don Cossack, as he and Elliott are regular allies.
Depending on whether or not Mullins runs both Vautour and Djakadam in the Gold Cup, Paul Townend may be an option for Don Poli, if Cooper eschews a horse that is already a dual Cheltenham Festival winner.
"We're hoping Road To Riches will run in the Irish Gold Cup," O'Leary confirmed. "Whether Don Poli runs there as well is up to Willie. If he wants him to run then great, if he doesn't, that's great as well. That is the plan for Road and we'll leave it up to Willie to decide with the other horse."
Of Don Cossack's less than spectacular but nonetheless professional Kinloch Brae triumph, a display that prompted Elliott to suggest that head-gear could be called upon for the Gold Cup, O'Leary added: "I don't know why a lot of people seem to be down about this horse - we were thrilled with him.
"The idea was to give him a school round and go to Cheltenham off the back of a win rather than off the back of a fall at Kempton and he got the job done. Two-and-a-half miles on very heavy ground at Thurles was never going to suit him and we know he'll be a far better horse on better ground - he bounces off better ground."
Meanwhile, tomorrow's Goffs Thyestes Chase spread at Gowran Park will have an added element of intrigue after Rebecca Curtis indicated that JP McManus's stayer At Fishers Cross is likely to make a belated reappearance in the John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle.
"He'll probably go to Ireland," said Curtis. "I'm happy with him at home, but he always tends to need his first run, so we'll see what happens."
The Grade Two has the potential to be a cracking contest, with Prince Of Scars, Alpha Des Obeaux and Martello Tower poised to renew rivalry after filling the first three places in a Leopardstown Grade One last time.