Culloty double act primed for action
JIM CULLOTY could be poised for 15 minutes of concentrated fame on Saturday as the seasonal paths of his Co Cork stable's two most exciting young steeplechasers briefly merge.
Lord Windermere thrust the three-time Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey back into the big-time when stealing to RSA Chase victory up the hallowed Prestbury Park hill under Davy Russell last March.
A return trip for a tilt at the main event is now the ultimate ambition, but Culloty is eager for his classy seven-year-old to contest Saturday's Powers Irish Whiskey Chase at Down Royal before heading for Newbury's Hennessy Gold Cup on November 30.
"I'd like to get a run into Lord Windermere ahead of the Hennessy and Saturday fits in nicely time-wise," Culloty said of the two-and-and-half-mile Grade Two.
"My only worry at the moment is the ground. It is being given as good to yielding, and at this time of year I'd just be a little concerned that it might not be soft enough for him, so we'll see."
While yesterday was a dry day in the north after 18mm of weekend rainfall, a further 5mm is forecast to hit the Maze venue today and the forecast remains mixed.
In contrast to Lord Windermere, Spring Heeled doesn't enjoy testing conditions. Another handsome Dr Ronan Lambe-owned gelding, the stout six-year-old has continued to improve since impressing for Culloty at the Killarney native's home track, latterly finishing second to the prolific Double Seven in the Munster National at Limerick.
Based at Churchtown in north Cork, the trainer has entries in two races at Cork on Sunday – including the €50,000 Paddy Power Cork Grand National – but the former Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning rider is leaning towards tackling Ascot's United House Gold Cup.
The £100,000 three-mile handicap chase is due off just a quarter of an hour after the Down Royal Grade Two at 3.20.
It could be Spring Heeled's last outing before a winter break, so he and Lord Windermere's fleeting double act has the potential to prove lucrative for Culloty.
"Cork is soft at the moment so that wouldn't suit Spring Heeled," Culloty explained. "I put him in the Grade Two at Down Royal as well, thinking that I might run him in it if it was too quick for Lord Windermere, but he has only got 11st 1lb to carry at Ascot.
"If he looked like he'd get in off that kind of weight and the ground doesn't get soft there, I'd be leaning towards running him in that."
Culloty confirmed that, if everything were to go to plan, Lord Windermere would be aimed at the Lexus Chase after Newbury, with a return to Leopardstown for the Irish Hennessy on the cards before Cheltenham.
A 25/1 shot for glory in the blue riband event in the Cotswolds, Lord Windermere also has an entry in Saturday's JNWine.com Champion Chase, but Culloty stated that would only be considered if the three-mile Grade One were to cut up badly.
With Mouse Morris reiterating that the €140,000 feature is the preferred option for the top-class First Lieutenant over Weatherby's Charlie Hall Chase, that seems unlikely.
Henry de Bromhead's former champion chaser Sizing Europe, runner-up in 2010 and 2011, is also due to line out, with Gordon Elliott's talented Mount Benbulben another intended starter.
A first real heavyweight bout of the campaign, the showpiece of Down Royal's year promises to be informative with a view to the months ahead, but also utterly compelling in itself.
The fixture gets underway on Friday, when Champion Hurdle prospect Jezki will reappear in the WKD Hurdle.
Robbie Power, who rode Jessica Harrington's gelding to Grade One victory at Leopardstown last January prior to its purchase by JP McManus, hopes to be back in action for the two-day meeting after damaging his upper arm in a fall at Naas on Monday.