Synchronised out of Hennessy
Sunday's Hennessy Gold Cup field was dealt another blow yesterday, with Jonjo O'Neill's Lexus Chase hero Synchronised the latest big-name withdrawal from the Leopardstown showpiece.
On Wednesday, Quito De La Roque and Jessies Dream were ruled out of the Grade One by Colm Murphy and Gordon Elliott respectively, so O'Neill's decision not to travel his course-and-distance winner leaves the highlight of the domestic chasing calendar with an increasingly decimated look to it.
O'Neill had made it clear last week that Synchronised, a 14/1 shot for next month's Cheltenham Gold Cup, needed to please him more to justify making the journey and a crucial gallop yesterday morning decided the nine-year-old's fate.
Quel Esprit is now the 11/10 favourite to give champion trainer Willie Mullins an eighth success in the Hennessy, having been as big as 5/2 on Wednesday morning. He will be joined in the line-up by the 2011 RSA Chase winner Bostons Angel (4/1), which Jessica Harrington confirmed will sport cheek-pieces for a first time on Sunday.
Edward O'Grady, meanwhile, aborted plans to declare Sailors Warn for tomorrow's Betfair Hurdle at Newbury at the 11th hour yesterday morning.
After the abandonment of cards scheduled for Uttoxeter and Warwick, the Berkshire venue and a new card at Musselburgh represent the only hopes of jump racing beating the big freeze in England tomorrow.
However, following a telephone conversation with Newbury's clerk of the course Richard Osgood, O'Grady called back the lorry that had already left his Ballynonty stables with Sailors Warn on board.
A total of 22 horses feature in the final line-up for the valuable Newbury handicap, with Willie Mullins' Final Approach (11st) the sole Irish-based runner under Richard Johnson. Last year's County Hurdle victor got off the mark for the season with a ready win at Cork last month and is a 12/1 shot to record a third Irish win in the two-miler in 10 years, following the triumphs of Jessica Harrington's Spirit Leader (2003) and Michael O'Brien's Essex (2005).
Paul Nicholls saddles the top-weight Brampour, with Ruby Walsh taking the reins on Nicholls' returning Triumph Hurdle winner Zarkandar (11st 1lb), the 3/1 favourite. AP McCoy has overlooked Jonjo O'Neill's Get Me Out Of Here (11st 1lb) -- the horse that carried him to victory in 2010 -- in favour of the fellow JP McManus-owned Darlan.
Unbeaten in a bumper and three novice hurdles, the Nicky Henderson-trained Darlan has been allotted 10st 10lb, and is the general second favourite to collect at 9/1.