Tuesday 16 January 2018

Fresh concerns for Gold Cup's status as Free Eagle grounded

Dermot Weld’s classy four-year-old Free Eagle suffered a stress fracture last spring
Dermot Weld’s classy four-year-old Free Eagle suffered a stress fracture last spring
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

Sunday's Tattersalls Gold Cup has suffered an early blow as Free Eagle is set to miss the under-fire Group One contest after succumbing to a head cold.

Dermot Weld's classy four-year-old's Classic campaign was delayed when he suffered a stress fracture last spring.

He returned to record a stunning Group Three victory at Leopardstown in September before then running with great credit in heavy ground to finish third in the Champion Stakes at Ascot on his only other start at three.

Weld has suggested that Free Eagle's return will only be delayed this time until Royal Ascot next month, but the High Chaparral colt's absence from Sunday's €250,000 10-furlong contest could be a serious a setback for the race.

"Free Eagle has picked up a head cold and we've decided to be cautious," Weld told racingpost.com. "Apart from (that) he is fine. We will train him for Royal Ascot."

Free Eagle was one of two Irish horses to appear yesterday on a list of 13 names left in the Coronation Cup at Epsom on June 6, Aidan O'Brien's Yorkshire Oaks victor Tapestry being the other.

As Weld indicated, though, Ascot's Prince Of Wales's or Hardwicke Stakes will be the target, while Clive Brittain's Rizeena will also skip the Curragh on Saturday to wait for Ascot.

Following a succession of small-field, uncompetitive renewals, the Gold Cup's status as an elite contest is at risk. Over a three-year period, a Group One is meant to average a rating of at least 115 for the first four horses home.

While it has been won by some quality animals, in recent years the lack of depth to the race has dragged down the average to the point that a poor turnout on Sunday could trigger the end of its 16-year stint as a Group One.

Despite the absence of a single Ballydoyle entry, Sunday's Gold Cup was shaping up to be a mouth-watering edition, with Free Eagle's expected presence alongside that of the 2013 winner Al Kazeem and the reigning Irish Champion Stakes victor The Grey Gatsby promising a lifeline.

Both Free Eagle and Al Kazeem are rated 120 with The Grey Gatsby boasting a handicap mark 6lb superior. While the race would be judged on their figures at year's end, the participation of three such esteemed operators augured well.

Now, though, Luca Cumani's Postponed is the only one of the other seven entries with a mark above 115 on 116.

David Wachman, meanwhile, has confirmed that the Oaks remains the likeliest destination for his 1,000 Guineas heroine Legatissimo after she appeared alongside 10 other cross-channel contenders among a total of 25 entries for the Epsom Classic.

Intriguingly, the Coolmore filly has also been added to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby field at the latest entry stage, as has Jim Bolger's runaway Naas winner Pleascach. No filly has won the premier Curragh Classic since Godolphin's Balanchine backed up her Oaks triumph under a young Frankie Dettori in 1994.

Ken Condon's leading Derby contender Success Days and the Dante runner-up Jack Hobbs are also now entered for the June 27 Group One.

Irish Independent

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