Elliott confident Don will jump to it in Thurles trial
Don Cossack continues on the Gold Cup quest at Thurles today but up against just three rivals, the Kinloch Brae Chase should be more of a test of his jumping proficiency rather than a proper trial for Gordon Elliott's leading Festival hope.
Elliott used the Grade Two event as his stepping stone to the March extravaganza last year and he was just getting the better of a battle with Champagne Fever when that one came down.
Don Cossack went on to finish third in the Ryanair at the Festival but he has jumping issues of his own, falling in the King George as he was coming with his challenge up the straight. However, his handler is confident that he will put that blip behind him.
"I didn't want to go to the Irish Hennessy," said Elliott. "I thought it might be a bit too close (to Cheltenham) and have too a hard race, we'll let him take his chance at Thurles, hopefully he'll have a clear round and run a good race and that will be it for the Gold Cup.
"Looking at the re-run of the King George, I don't think he got the best run through the race, he never got into a rhythm, he was in, he was out, he was up, he was down - he never got into a rhythm.
"At the time he fell I thought Ruby (Walsh) looked to be going very well (on Vautour), what happened after happened, I can't say whether we would have won or not, but I don't think we would have been far away as the one thing I know my horse does is he gallops to the line."
Bryan Cooper's mount is second-favourite for the Blue Riband, behind last year's runner-up Djakadam, and Elliott bemoans the fact that his charge is around in such a top-class era.
"I'd loved to have been training him three or four years ago, the Gold Cup looks as hot this year as it has in a long time," Elliott reasoned.
"But we've got the highest-rated horse in England and Ireland last year and I think he is a better horse come that time of the year - I don't think he is a real mud-lover, so I hope it dries up come Cheltenham time.
Taking him on this afternoon is Noel Meade's Wounded Warrior, third in the RSA last March, Robbie Hennessy's veteran Rubi Light and Jerry Cosgrave's Mount Colah.
Elliott and Cooper go up against each other in the WT O'Grady Memorial Novice Hurdle as the trainer has Barry Geragthy's services for Westend Star while Cooper is aboard the Willie Mullins-trained Monbeg Rose for his retainer Michael O'Leary.
The champion trainer also runs Arkwrisht, the mount of Ruby Walsh, but Monbeg Rose would look the one to beat if she can progress from her impressive maiden hurdle victory at this venue last month. That contest was over two miles, but as a former point-to-point winner the daughter of Beneficial should have little trouble in staying this extra six furlongs.
The other Grade Two event on the card is the Coolmore NH Sires Mares Novice Chase and this valuable looks set for export, in the shape of the Harry Fry-trained Bitofapuzzle.
In nine races under Rules the eight-year-old's only defeats have come at Haydock, when beaten narrowly, and in the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham when a close third.
A Grade One winner at Fairyhouse, she looked a natural on her chasing debut at Exeter last month and Fry is adamant she will have no problem with the heavy ground.
"Hopefully this looks a nice race for her," said Fry. "She's won over the trip of two-and-a-half miles and we know testing ground doesn't bother her."
Main danger looks to be the Mick Winters-trained Perfect Woman.