THE already frail prospect of a first Irish-trained winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup for six years suffered a further blow yesterday when Robbie Hennessy announced that Rubi Light would be aimed at the Ryanair Chase in March instead of the Prestbury Park showpiece.
While ultimately disappointing when second to Synchronised in the Lexus Chase at Christmas, Hennessy's promising French-bred came out of the Leopardstown Grade One with a degree of credit, racing close to the pace before keeping on to deny Quito De La Roque the runner-up berth on his first try at three miles.
He remains an exciting prospect and, having just turned seven years of age, seemed the right vintage for a tilt at the main event.
The last three raiders to win the Gold Cup -- Imperial Call, Kicking King and War Of Attrition -- were all seven when they achieved glory, while both Kauto Star and Best Mate were the same age when they first won the race.
Nonetheless, Hennessy has opted to revert to shorter distances with his stable star, eschewing the Hennessy Gold Cup back at Leopardstown in favour of the two-and-a-half-mile Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park on February 18.
A year ago, Rubi Light ran out a 12-length winner of that Grade Two en route to finishing a fine third in the Ryanair.
"The plan is to go for the Red Mills at Gowran and then go to the Ryanair," the Ratoath handler confirmed.
"We will leave three miles for the rest of the season. He is only young and we don't want to put the gun to his head too soon.
"It would be great if there was a bit of juice in the ground at Cheltenham this time. He ran well in the Ryanair last year, but the first thing Andrew (Lynch) said getting off him was that he'd have won if it had been a bit softer."
Having been as short as 20/1 for the Gold Cup, Rubi Light drifted in that market yesterday, as his price contracted in places for the Ryanair.
He remains a top-priced 8/1 second favourite for the latter event, two points longer than the Paul Nolan-trained market leader Noble Prince.
One that won't travel in March, however, is Dermot Weld's Waaheb.
Narrowly beaten by Lovethehigherlaw when last seen in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown in May, the JP McManus-owned three-time bumper winner had been a 10/1 joint-favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle prior to Weld ruling him out of the Festival yesterday.
"Unfortunately Waaheb has had a few minor hold-ups and it will not be possible to give him an ideal preparation or a race before Cheltenham," Weld said. "He might be back in action before the end of the season, possibly at the Punchestown Festival."
Eddie O'Leary, racing manager to his brother Michael's Gigginstown Stud, has also warned that their firm is unlikely to have a representative in the Champion Bumper in March.
Gordon Elliott's Don Cossack and Willie Mullins' Un Atout have impressed in the ownership's maroon and white silks lately, but O'Leary has reservations about over-racing bumper horses.
"We have the first two in the betting for the Champion Bumper in Un Atout and Don Cossack," said O'Leary. "But unless something seriously changes, I don't think either will run. It's just a race we don't particularly like as we think it can ruin a good young horse."
Prunella Dobbs has revealed that her classy mare Our Girl Salley could run at Ascot on Saturday week, as the Wicklow-based trainer puts the finishing touches to her Leopardstown scorer ahead of a shot at Quevega in the Cotswolds. Our Girl Salley was cut to 12/1 for the mares' race at Cheltenham by Boylesports yesterday, having been 20/1 just seven days ago.
Gigginstown's Beautiful Sound, yet to race this term, has been given an initial showing of 10/1 by Paddy Power for both the Goffs Thyestes Chase and the Leopardstown Chase at the end of the month. Quel Esprit, a bloodless winner for Willie Mullins and Paul Townend at Thurles on Saturday, is the layer's 15/2 favourite for the Gowran Park handicap on January 26.
Ted Walsh's Seabass, unbeaten in four starts under rules following a game effort for the trainer's daughter Katie at Limerick recently, is a 9/1 shot for both races, odds that see him shade favouritism for the Leopardstown contest two days later.
Meanwhile, Frankel has been honoured for his outstanding achievements last summer by being crowned champion racehorse in the World Thoroughbred Rankings for 2011.
In being awarded a rating of 136, Henry Cecil's exceptional colt earned a figure equal to that which Sea The Stars did during his similarly brilliant three-year-old campaign in 2009.
Ballydoyle's Australian import So You Think was the only Irish-trained horse to sneak into the top 10, though his prolific stablemates Camelot and Maybe were bestowed the highest ranking in the two-year-old colts and fillies categories, respectively.