Hidden Cyclone drifts in under the radar
Less than a year ago, the prospect of Hidden Cyclone tackling the 2013 Paddy Power Gold Cup with just 11st 1lb on his back would have seemed highly unlikely.
More than that, if someone had said that you could have odds of 16/1 about him winning the race just two days before the event, you might have thought Christmas really had come early. Well, that's exactly where we are at right now.
John 'Shark' Hanlon's stable star will lead the Irish assault on Saturday's prestigious Cheltenham feature. Ultimately, that tells its own story, for this is a horse that once appeared to possess the capacity to be a contender for the Gold Cup itself in March, rather than the handicap showpiece of November's Open meeting.
A deeply optimistic view would suggest that he could still, but the truth is that Hidden Cyclone has failed to progress in any meaningful fashion since he posted what was arguably his most polished performance to score at Gowran Park on November 24, 2012. His ninth win in 11 starts, that was meant to be a final prelude.
Mindful of his potential to be a Grade One chaser, Hanlon had campaigned the Stowaway gelding selectively for two and a half years with the intention of giving him the best possible grounding. There's many a slip between cup and lip, though.
Hidden Cyclone – a big, old-fashioned, handsome individual – looked out of his depth when pitched into the Lexus Chase last Christmas. He then suffered three more comprehensive defeats – including a fall at the last when held at Navan in February.
For a horse that shook up the Gold Cup runner-up Sir Des Champs at Leopardstown as a novice, the bubble had burst. Hidden Cyclone returned to winning ways at Listowel in September, but even that error-strewn display left a sense of deflation.
Still, the upshot of such unfulfilled promise is that few of Saturday's entries seem so well in. Andrew McNamara, who did the steering on Tranquil Sea – the only Irish-trained Paddy Power winner in over 30 years – in 2009, will need to coax a more fluent round of jumping out of Hidden Cyclone if they're to feature, but there is a chance that his mount's stunted progress could yield a dividend. Incidentally, it was only yesterday evening that McNamara's availability for Saturday was assured.
The Limerick native succeeded in having a two-day ban for careless riding halved on appeal, meaning that he must sit out just today's Clonmel meeting.
Noel Meade's Paddy Power entry Texas Jack has been declared for this afternoon's Clonmel Oil Chase, but Tony Martin's Gift Of Dgab and Mark McNiff's Sean Airgead could still join Hidden Cyclone, which Hanlon has described as a definite starter for the two-mile-five-furlong contest.
Rising star Bryan Cooper will also be on duty, having been booked by Steve Gollings for recent Aintree winner Conquisto. Nicky Henderson has indicated that Finian's Rainbow is likely to take his chance under 11st 12lb, though David Pipe has yet to commit Dynaste, which has been vying for ante-post favouritism with the Jonjo O'Neill-trained Johns Spirit.
Meanwhile, Pat Fahy has confirmed that Ruby Walsh will ride Morning Assembly in Sunday's Grade Two Florida Pearl Novice Chase at Punchestown. Walsh deputised for the injured Davy Condon on the Grade One novice hurdle winner when he made a successful fencing debut at the course recently.