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Gold Cup hopefuls already on course for Cheltenham

FOR the first time since War Of Attrition led home a one-two-three for the raiders in 2006, Irish-trained horses hold genuine hopes of becoming Cheltenham Gold Cup contenders.

Okay, we may be a little premature here, but Flemenstar and Last Instalment have recently set out on the long and pitfall-strewn road that might well conclude with a tilt at the big one on March 15, 2013. They are back in training, so the countdown is officially on.

Of last season's novices, Flemenstar and Last Instalment are joined by First Lieutenant and Sir Des Champs as a quartet of deeply promising prospects, between them the winners of 14 consecutive chases.

They are an immensely exciting bunch, and few would argue with the position of Willie Mullins' Sir Des Champs at the head of the Gold Cup betting after a flawless novice campaign that finished with a bloodless Grade One rout at Punchestown.

Most importantly, though, with a focus on Prestbury Park's unforgiving terrain which has often made the big prize so elusive for Irish horses, Sir Des Champs has experience of the unique challenge that the course offers, excelling there for a second successive year to stylishly claim the Jewson Chase in March.

Likewise, Mouse Morris' First Lieutenant has two solid placed efforts at the Festival to his name, and the potential significance of that course familiarity is the chief reason we are compelled to discuss Gold Cup horses now.

For one reason or another, Flemenstar and Last Instalment have yet to encounter Cheltenham's various and exhaustive demands.

To do so for a first time in the frenzied heat of Gold Cup battle could be perilous, and history goes a long way to backing up that theory.

Since 1989, when Desert Orchid mounted his stirring climb to immortality, there have been 20 winners of the Gold Cup. All bar two of them -- Jodami and Imperial Call -- had invaluable previous experience at the venue, and only one of the 18 arrived on the back of a negative introduction at the course.

The one was Kauto Star in 2007 and, to an extent, his fall at the second fence in the previous year's Champion Chase only further underlines how the speed of championship action at Cheltenham can catch out even the most naturally talented of horses.

Indeed, it will be 10 years ago next March that Beef Or Salmon suffered the same early fate when he tackled the Gold Cup without previous experience -- albeit he was a novice, too. Equally significant is that, of the 18, 17 had already encountered the heady environs of the March Festival.

The well-travelled Synchronised, the only one of the 18 not to run over fences at Cheltenham prior to his Gold Cup, sampled the course's contours in the thick of the cavalry charge that is the Pertemps Hurdle, so he wasn't fazed by the razzmatazz of it all last year.

As for Imperial Call and Jodami, well, apart from still being the only two Gold Cups winners to warm up with a Hennessy victory at Leopardstown, both at least had plenty experience by the time their date with destiny arrived, having run in 10 and 11 chases, respectively. By the same token, Kauto Star had 10 starts over fences when he returned for his first Gold Cup.

Neither Last Instalment nor Flemenstar will be able to draw on that kind of field practice, but Philip Fenton and Peter Casey could still devise strategies that might adequately compensate.

Casey has already suggested that he is contemplating a cross-channel target en route to the Gold Cup, while Fenton is optimistic that Last Instalment will be fit to race again around Christmas time after injury prematurely finished his season last term.

Notwithstanding the showpiece handicaps at Cheltenham in the meantime, the chase formerly known as the Pillar -- for so long a supreme Gold Cup trial and run on the same New Course on January 26 -- will probably be the one realistic chance that either trainer will have to give their charges the chance to compete on equal terms with everything else come March.

When Fenton and Casey both sit down in the hush of the autumn to plot a route to Cotswolds glory in the spring, then, it would be remiss of them not to give the race due consideration.

Great Oak stands tall in Killarney contest

Thurles-based handler John Nicholson has enjoyed a fine time with Great Oak, a mare that he owns himself.

At Killarney on Saturday, she upset the odds-on Drive Time in the amateur riders' race to bring her tally to four -- two on the Flat and two over fences -- since June.

Nicholson hinted at a tilt at the Irish Cesarewitch (October 14) for the Rachael Blackmore-ridden six-year-old, though a conditions chase is first up at Galway next week.

The bang in-form Tommy Carmody -- in the news last week following his landlord Johnny Murtagh's dismissal from his position as retained jockey to the Aga Khan -- is another man with a Cesarewitch in his thinking after Seventh Sign stormed home under Niall McCullagh. Remarkably, following Ursa Major at the Curragh the previous Saturday and Hartside at Ballinrobe on Tuesday, Seventh Sign was a third Carmody horse to complete a quick treble.

Baily Green went one better in the featured KWD Handicap Hurdle. Reverting to the smaller obstacles after winning three successive chases, Mouse Morris' charge did just enough under David Casey to repel Domination by a nose.

Danedream made to work hard in Germany

Last year's stunning Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe heroine Danedream completed preparations for next month's edition by grinding out a result in the Grosser Preis von Baden at Baden-Baden, the same Group One that she successfully warmed up in 12 months ago.

The German four-year-old was beaten on her seasonal bow -- as she was in 2011 -- but had already claimed Nathaniel's scalp when denying John Gosden's colt back-to-back King Georges at Ascot in July.

She remains a genral 6/1 second favourite behind Camelot to become the first horse since Vincent O'Brien's Alleged (1978) to win the Longchamp centrepiece for a second time.


3 Joseph O'Brien's lead over Pat Smullen in the jockeys' table after Smullen edged one closer over the weekend.

8the margin of victory in points enjoyed by the raiders in the Irish versus Australian jockeys' challenge on Saturday.

Ben Dalton added to Philip Enright's earlier win to help the team to a 39.5 to 31.5 triumph at Morphettville, a 23rd Irish win in the 37-year-long series.

Paul Townend and Declan Bates were also on duty at what is celebrated as Irish Day at the Adelaide track. Paddy Flood, meanwhile, has now joined the exodus of jump jockeys to move Down Under.

86,000the latest figure in euros reported by Davy Russell, one of the event organisers, to be raised by the celebrity hurling match in aid of the Irish Cancer Society at Newbridge recently.


@sirgerry29 -- Cancelling my Sky Sports subscription, can't bear to watch Liverpool lose every game this season #depressing

-- For a second week, it is the injured British-based jockey Gerry Galligan, a brother of Newbridge's international 800m runner Rose-Anne, that earns the nod here for capturing the sentiments of all perennially beleaguered Liverpool fans after yesterday's defeat by Arsenal.

Irish Independent