Nolan plays down Noble chances at Cheltenham
HOPES of an Irish victory in Cheltenham's big handicap on Saturday have increased with the news that both Noble Prince and Home Farm are set to make the trip.
Mind you, trainer Paul Nolan warned patriotic punters by admitting that he's unsure what to expect from Noble Prince as the gelding prepares to return to the scene of his finest hour for the Stewart Family Thank You Gold Cup.
The nine-year-old enjoyed Festival glory when landing the Jewson Novices' Chase in 2011, but was pulled up in the 2012 Ryanair and the following campaign was bitterly disappointing.
However, he has shown signs of a revival in the early stages of this season, running well for a long way at Punchestown before a confidence-boosting victory in the John Meagher Memorial Chase at Thurles last month.
Noble Prince holds an entry in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on Thursday, but is likely to instead head to Prestbury Park.
"We haven't totally made up our minds, but I'm 90pc sure he'll go to Cheltenham," said the Co Wexford handler. "Everything has gone well since Thurles, but it was difficult to know what to make of that run. The two horses he beat, Realt Dubh and Fosters Cross, haven't run well since.
"It's not easy to assess where he is. I thought 9lb was a high enough rise for winning that race, he's up to 154 again now, but he seems to be coming back to himself.
"We hope he's back to a reasonable standard, but that remains to be seen. You'd like to be going over with more confidence, if his last run had worked out that bit better, but it hasn't and it's not an easy call.
"We'll see what happens on Saturday. We're happy with the horse."
Noble Prince -- one of 18 confirmations for the two-mile-five-furlong contest -- looks set to be joined in the raid by Arthur Moore's Home Farm.
Third in the Irish Grand National, Home Farm is an intended runner according to his trainer on the back of a promising seasonal reappearance at Naas, where he was a close third behind Rupert Lamb over two miles.
"Home Farm is likely to run and David Casey will ride, all being well," Moore explained. "I was really happy with his first run at Naas and he has been fine since then."
Jonjo O'Neill's Paddy Power Gold Cup hero Johns Spirit is set to bid for a major handicap double, while leading owner JP McManus still has Paddy Power runner-up Colour Squadron, recent Newbury scorer Cantlow and Tap Night engaged. Other contenders include the Paul Nicholls-trained Grandioso, Malcolm Jefferson's Attaglance and David Pipe's Salut Flo.
Meanwhile, Davy Russell aims to be back in the saddle at Tramore on Thursday following his fall from Sir Des Champs in the John Durkan Memorial Chase on Sunday.
The reigning champion jump jockey was stood down for the rest of the meeting and missed the winning ride on exciting prospect Bright New Dawn.
Elsewhere, Donegal native Martin Harley was in flying form yesterday at Wolverhamton where he recorded a 147/1 four-timer to take his tally for the year to 95.
After landing the opening juvenile contest over a mile on Dragoon Guard (5/4) for Marco Botti, he guided the Michael Bell-trained Exceeding Power (2/1 joint-favourite) to victory in the nursery. He ended with a brace for David Simcock through Rainford Glory (7/1) and Modernism (7/4 favourite).
Stewart Family Thank You Gold Cup, Paddy Power bet: 5/1 Colour Squadron, 6/1 Johns Spirit, 9/1 Grandioso, 10/1 Home Farm, Cantlow, Attaglance, 12/1 bar.