Paul Nicholls has revealed that Tidal Bay will not travel for next Saturday's Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
The 12-year-old has recovered from the knock that caused him to miss the Argento Chase at Cheltenham last weekend, but Nicholls doesn't want to rush him back with Cheltenham just around the corner. His absence will deny the feature race a recognised benchmark performer.
Since the three-mile Grade One's inception as the Vincent O'Brien Gold Cup in 1987, just two horses have gone on to triumph in the Prestbury Park equivalent the same year – Jodami in 1993 and Imperial Call three years later. In truth, Tidal Bay's absence couldn't be said to detract from the likelihood of a third emulating that feat, as few consider the quirky, sketchy jumping, soft-ground-loving veteran as genuine Gold Cup material.
As such, that we were looking at how Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs would measure up against their Lexus conqueror is hardly encouraging, but a comprehensive win for either would have constituted perceptible progress in the quest for an Irish-trained winner of steeplechasing's Holy Grail.
That said, if either Flemenstar or Sir Des Champs steps up to the plate in style come Saturday, at least we've the Lexus to fall back on for reference.
Right now, no tangible evidence has emerged to confirm that the Christmas highlight was anything more than a breathtaking spectacle, though the commendable efforts of Tidal Bay and runner-up First Lieutenant in the Hennessy at Newbury the previous month gave it some context.
Tidal Bay ran gamely to be second to Bobs Worth on that occasion when conceding six pounds, so, strictly on form, the three Irish protagonists – each of which is progressive – in the Lexus are due plenty credit after running Tidal Bay to less than a length off levels. The topic of whether or not Flemenstar stays three miles has been of much debate since, and will remain so until Saturday at the earliest. Whatever your take on that issue, the overall picture for our elite stayers has a healthier hue to it than 12 months ago, when Quel Esprit readily justified short odds to overcome six local rivals in a poor Hennessy.
Off an official rating of 154, China Rock was the top-rated runner then, in contrast to the respective 171 and 166 that Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs have earned to date. With Bobs Worth and Tidal Bay on 171 and Long Run and Silviniaco Conti on 172, the gulf between the pick of the Gold Cup prospects on either side of the water is less daunting than when it stood at 29lbs this time last year, courtesy of Kauto Star's 183 (Long Run was 182 at the time).
Quel Esprit is pencilled in to make his reappearance in Saturday's feature and China Rock should also run, while Quito De La Roque, Bog Warrior, Kauto Stone, Seabass and Prince De Beauchene would all lend varying degrees of depth to the race should they turn out. Of the expected runners, however, it is telling that it is 10/1 bar the two 6/4 joint-favourites.
The overall quality of the Hennessy has dropped markedly, with last year's Grand National hero Neptune Collonges the only winner (2009) since Beef Or Salmon in 2007 that could be described as a proper Grade One chaser. When you consider that Gold Cup victor Synchronised was also a late scratching from the race last year due to fears that it came too soon before Cheltenham, its position in the calendar is clearly an issue.
Nonetheless, Jodami and Imperial Call proved that success at Leopardstown in February doesn't preclude glory at Cheltenham in March.
It is a deficiency of quality that does that.
Overturn cut for Arkle after Musselburgh stroll
The brilliantly versatile 2010 Galway Hurdle winner Overturn was cut to as low as 3/1 (from 5/1) to trump the odds-on Simonsig in next month's Arkle Trophy after recording a bloodless victory at Musselburgh yesterday.
The nine-year-old – also previously successful in a Scottish Champion Hurdle, Northumberland Plate, Chester Cup and Fighting Fifth Hurdle – is now three from three over fences following a typically charged display of front-running under Jason Maguire at the Scottish venue.
Despite returning an SP of 1/5 in the four-horse race, Overturn impressed the layers enough with another flawless round of jumping to prompt a cut in his ante-post odds to go one better than when second to Rock On Ruby in the Champion Hurdle in 2012.
Captain Conan struggles home to maintain record
In Saturday's Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown, Barry Geraghty had to work hard to earn his second Grade One winner of 2013 when Captain Conan prevailed by a neck from Third Intention to also stretch its 100pc record over fences to three.
Sent off at odds of 1/2, Nicky Henderson's six-year-old, unbeaten in three Grade Ones at Sandown, is Jewson Chase-bound after this slightly laboured effort in heavy ground over an extended two-and-a-half miles.
Punchestown gets lift-off with online 'boarding pass'
Punchestown racecourse has launched a facility, believed to be the first of its kind, that enables customers to have their tickets sent to them by email.
All packages and ticket types for the track can now be sourced in this manner, which simply requires the racegoer to print off the ticket and present it on arrival at the track, as you would a boarding pass for a flight.
Sheehys will be keeping
their 'Ear To The Ground'
Danny and Mikey Sheehy, pint-sized stars of the 'flapping' circuit, are due to feature on RTE television's 'Ear To The Ground' programme on Thursday at 8.30.
Sons of Graiguenamanagh handler Eamonn 'Dusty' Sheehy – who has enjoyed great success with Rathgar Beau, Justified and Trafford Lad – the brothers' busy racing-home-school schedule is the focus of attention as they set out on a path that looks sure to culminate in their gracing the racecourse proper in the near future.
Quevega on course for
Willie Mullins has confirmed that Quevega is on schedule to make her now habitual seasonal bow in the Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham, though he said that she had a slight setback.
"She came back in and, sure enough, the first week she pulled a muscle, but we've done two or three bits of work since and I'm very pleased with her," the trainer revealed of a horse that is 4/6 to equal Golden Miller's five Festival triumphs.
"She's bang on course for Cheltenham and it's fingers crossed again."
51 – Patrick Mullins' tally of winners for the National Hunt season to date, which is one better than the record he set in 2008-09.
@JPOFarrell – The nice lads and budding entrepreneurs who stole our goalkeeper's car today in Liverpool, u can keep the car if u drop off the hurls somewhere
– Sidelined jump jockey James O'Farrell, English-based son of Kilmoganny trainer Seamus, reaches out to the thieves who made off with a bunch of ex-pats' hurleys. O'Farrell, who steered Francis Flood's P'Tit Fute to a runaway triumph in the GPT Handicap at Galway in 2006, is a former All-Ireland minor hurling medal winner with Kilkenny.