Double Ross has grounds to scupper Spirit charge
JONJO O'NEILL'S hat-trick seeking Johns Spirit faces a tough task in his quest to become just the fourth horse to add victory in today's December Gold Cup at Cheltenham to his gallant triumph in last month's Paddy Power-sponsored equivalent.
O'Neill's Exotic Dancer was the last horse to complete the double under Tony Dobbin in 2006, but the suspicion is that Richie McLernon's mount might not be quite up to emulating that classy old stalwart.
While Exotic Dancer had the quality to defy a 10lb hike off 149, you couldn't be as sure that a 9lb rise to 148 won't stall Johns Spirit's progress. He goes well in this sort of race at Cheltenham, but odds of 5/1 look short all the same.
AP McCoy is aboard Philip Hobbs' JP McManus-owned Colour Squadron, which trades at similarly skimpy odds after chasing Johns Spirit to the line last month. However, the Old Vic seven-year-old's fencing lets him down at times, as evidenced by his howler before nearly getting brought down two-out that day.
Still a maiden over fences after five tries, he has been second six times in 13 starts and hasn't won for two years.
As such, he isn't one to trust in such a competitive event, and it's worth pointing out that Johns Spirit idled badly last time.
Paul Nicholls' Grandioso is certainly of interest after a fair third on his reappearance behind the re-opposing Cantlow at Newbury a fortnight ago. Daryl Jacob's mount is 6lb better off now, so he has obvious scope for improvement on just his sixth outing over fences. At around 6/1, he is a solid each-way option at least.
Further down the page, Double Ross brings the same amount of chasing experience to the table for Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies.
Placed third in a handicap hurdle at the Festival in March off 139, the tall, angular chestnut gets in here off just 133 on what is effectively his second start in a handicap, as he fell early on his first in the autumn of 2012.
On reverting to the bigger obstacles in September, he ran out a ready Perth winner from Attaglance, which ran a fine race to be beaten just six lengths in fourth in the Paddy Power.
Double Ross was then a commendable third in a proper novices' chase behind Balder Succes at Chepstow, before posting a similarly admirable effort to be second to Niceonefrankie on his return to handicapping off today's rating at Ascot in November.
Niceonefrankie went on to be fifth behind Cantlow off a 6lb higher mark next time.
In theory, that might seem to lessen Double Ross' prospects here, but that doesn't take into account that he had to do most of his own donkey work at Ascot, which isn't easy.
He saw everything off until the eventual winner, the last to challenge, finally broke him. In the circumstances, it was no mean feat and it might be that he will be better suited by a race like this, when he will be able to sit close to the pace but be assured a lead for longer.
If that's what transpires, Double Ross might just be thrown in here under just 10st 8lb, so odds of 12/1 seem too generous to pass up with his favoured decent ground assured.
Ruby Walsh has opted for Prestbury Park over Fairyhouse to ride Glens Melody in the Relkeel Hurdle, a decision that commands respect given his select forays this term. This Grade Two will be a serious test for Willie Mullins' classy mare, especially as most of her best form is on softer ground.
French challenger Gemix, which beat Solwhit in the French Champion Hurdle in June, is a real player, while More Of That and Salubrious are two deeply progressive sons of Beneficial that are both well in with Glens Melody at the weights. Still, Walsh's mount is also still unexposed, so it's worth trusting that she can take the step up in her stride.
In the novices' chase, Jonjo O'Neill's Shutthefrontdoor is fancied to turn the tables on Le Bec for McCoy. Le Bec benefited from a canny ride to steal an advantage here in November, but O'Neill's six-year-old can gain revenge off 3lb better terms now.
Best Bet: Double Ross
A POOR scope denied Home Farm a run in today's big race at Cheltenham, but Arthur Moore suggested that he should recover in time for the Paddy Power Chase on December 27.
Right now, the Presenting six-year-old is set to carry 11st 7lb in the prestigious Leopardstown three-mile handicap, with only the two English entries Silver By Nature and Sydney Paget rated higher.
If both drop out, obviously Home Farm's job becomes more difficult under top-weight. However, as evidenced by his fine third over an inadequate two miles on his Naas reappearance, he has a touch of quality, so he could still be a real player, and there must be a chance that one of the British duo will travel anyway.
Home Farm has had just five starts over fences and nine in all, so he certainly has the scope to defy a five-pound hike in the ratings for finishing third in the Irish Grand National.
If he turns up at Leopardstown, his current odds of 12/1 are unlikely to be available.