De Bromhead eyes on Cheltenham prize
Henry de Bromhead is optimistic that the step back up to two and a half miles on decent ground will prompt an improved showing from Loosen My Load in Saturday's Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Having recorded a bloodless triumph in similar conditions at Naas in September, Loosen My Load subsequently failed to stamp his usual authority on proceedings when reverting to two miles in soft going at Limerick a month ago.
The Evan Williams-trained West With The Wind out-pointed him on that occasion, but De Bromhead's seven-year-old has not won over less than two and a quarter miles since switching to fences 18 months ago -- and he has never won on soft ground.
"I hope the return to two and a half miles will help as he has good form over that trip," de Bromhead said of Loosen My Load, which is a 20/1 shot for Saturday.
"The ground was possibly too soft at Limerick and I just thought the other horse quickened away on that ground and he struggled to catch him. Saturday's race is competitive, and if he finishes in the money, it will be a fantastic run."
Third behind Noble Prince and Wishfull Thinking in the Jewson Chase last March, Loosen My Load has been allocated 10st 9lb in the weekend's showpiece handicap. He will meet those two on better terms this time if all three run, and the weights appear unlikely to go up, with top-weight Poquelin expected to line out.
Andy Stewart, who owns the latter entry as well as Nomecheki further down the page, revealed yesterday that Nomecheki would instead fulfil an engagement on Friday, leaving the way free for Poquelin to take his place in the main event.
Wishfull Thinking is likewise expected to run, though the Philip Hobbs-trained inmate -- second favourite at 7/1 behind Poquelin's Paul Nicholls-trained stablemate Mon Parrain -- has the option of a conditions race on Sunday over two miles.
Loosen My Load's Limerick conqueror West With The Wind is also in Sunday's two-miler. Speaking yesterday, Evan Williams revealed that his six-year-old, whose only defeat in its last six jumping starts came when it was pulled up in the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy in March, could soon step up in class again.
"It will be quite interesting to see how we get on," the Welsh handler reported. "He's starting to give us the right signs that he is progressive and it would be nice if he could chip away quietly up the ladder. He was disappointing in the Arkle, but he'd been off for a terribly long time and the weather had been awful in between."
Noble Prince is one of six entries for Sunday's €42,000 Grade Two Fortria Chase at Navan. If Nolan opts to go down that route, his seven-year-old could meet Forpadydeplasterer and Big Zeb, which finished last term by beating Sizing Europe at Punchestown.
In the wake of Sizing Europe's narrow defeat to Quito De La Roque at Down Royal, De Bromhead has confirmed that his versatile stable star will be campaigned over shorter than three miles for the foreseeable future.
"We have a few races to consider," he said, "the Tingle Creek (at Sandown), the John Durkan Memorial (at Punchestown) and the Dial-A-Bet (at Leopardstown). We'll see how things go with him over the next couple of weeks and if all is well then one of those Grade Ones will be his next race."
Big Zeb's trainer, Colm Murphy, has indicated that his 2010 Champion Chase winner will bid to win the Navan showpiece for a third successive year. Successful in this contest last season, the son of Oscar went on to finish second to Sizing Europe in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, before exacting revenge on that rival at this year's Punchestown Festival.
The Wexford handler, however, is still unsure who will be in the plate as regular partner Barry Geraghty is likely to be on duty at Cheltenham for Nicky Henderson. "Because of that we'll just have to wait and see what he is doing first," explained Murphy.
Also in the early line up are Psycho, Predateur and Trafford Lad.
The Lismullen Hurdle is also shaping up to be a decent race. Murphy's Voler La Vedette is due to make a return when she lines up in the €37,500 Grade Two contest, while Willie Mullins has lined up Mikael D'Haguenet and Mourad, and Edward O'Grady includes Rigour Back Bob.
Dermot Weld's Triumph Hurdle runner-up Unaccompanied, second under a welter burden at Leopardstown on Sunday, could make a quick reappearance in the Listed Fishery Lane Hurdle at Naas on Saturday.
"She's come out of the race very good," Stan Cosgrave, speaking on behalf of the four-year-old's owner Moyglare Stud Farm said. "There's talk of running her (on Saturday). She wasn't very fit for Leopardstown -- she hadn't run for some time."
Across the water, Peddlers Cross -- second to Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle -- today faces three rivals on its chasing debut at Bangor. With Jason Maguire sidelined through injury, Timmy Murphy fills in on Don McCain's charge.
"We know he is top class and hopefully he will get the job done and we can then start worrying about what comes next," said McCain of his charge which is 6/1 favourite for the Irish Independent Arkle.
•Leopardstown has announced that the Grade One December Festival Hurdle, highlight on day four of the Christmas Festival, is to be renamed the Istabraq Festival Hurdle.
One of the greatest horses of all time, Istabraq won at four Cheltenham Festivals in-a-row, including three Champion Hurdles from 1998-2000, and won the December Festival Hurdle on four occasions between 1997 and 2001.