Irish Gold Cup: Runner by runner
We've got a runner-by-runner guide to Sunday's Grade One Stan James Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
Carlingford Lough, probably the best bet in the Irish Gold Cup
First run in 1987, the race was originally titled the Vincent O'Brien Irish Gold Cup before being renamed the Hennessy Gold Cup in 1991.
That sponsorship ended after 2015 and it was run without a backer last season until Stan James took up the mantle ahead of this year's renewal.
Run over a distance of around three miles, the race regularly attracts the top Irish stayers as well as challengers from across the sea and two horses, Jodami and Imperial Call, have gone on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same season.
This year Minella Rocco and Don Poli are attempting to break Colin Tizzard's stranglehold on the March showpiece while former Stayers' Hurdle winner More Of That is bidding to get his career back on track.
Bidding for a hat-trick in this race after victories at 4/1 and 20/1. The chosen mount of three by Barry Geraghty and looks to have been trained with this race in mind having had just the one start over hurdles since beating Djakadam to win the Punchestown Gold Cup in April. That outing should have put him straight and another big run looks to be on the cards.
Hasn't always looked the most enthusiastic but a change to his training routine brought about an improved performance in the Lexus Chase where he travelled far more sweetly than usual and found only Outlander too strong. This dual Grade One winner always looked to have the potential to go right to the top and he still has time on his side while there could be more to come on just his fourth start for Gordon Elliott now that they seem to have found the key to unlocking his talent. Unlikely to be far away if on song.
Empire Of Dirt
Two years older than stablemate Don Poli but has only just arrived on the scene with a hat-trick seeing his rating rise from 133 to 160. Impressive in the Troytown last time and that form is working out well. Hard to know where that improvement will end but he has to prove that he can cut it with the big boys on this notable step up in class from handicap company. Not the biggest surprise if he manages it though.
Beat leading Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Native River in the four mile National Hunt Chase at last year's Festival. Satisfactory reappearance and running well enough at Aintree behind the ill-fated Many Clouds given that he appeared ill-suited by the demands of that track, staying on when taking a fall. Given plenty of time to recover and although he still has to prove that he can cut the mustard in this level, he's always looked as though he would be able to make the step up. Offputting that he's overlooked by Geraghty but still merits respect.
More Of That
Appeared to have the world at his feet when beating Annie Power in the 2014 World Hurdle to make it five from five but not an awful lot has gone right for him since despite his third place finish in last season's RSA Chase when reportedly breaking a blood vessel. Geraghty was in the plate when he was beaten over 11 lengths behind Outlander in the Lexus Chase and he has plenty to find on that form for all that it was a step in the right direction.
Road To Riches
The 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup third was runner-up in last year's renewal of this race before going on to hit the frame at Cheltenham and Navan before falling in the Punchestown Gold Cup when still in contention. Has failed to hit the same heights since that fall, pulling up lame when dropped to handicap company at Galway and most recently behind Outlander in the Lexus. Reportedly had a rushed preparation for that race following an operation for a kissing spine and possible he could return to somewhere near his best with that problem behind him but that has to be taken on trust.
Campaigned almost exclusively at around the minimum trip until tackling two and a half miles on his second start for this yard last time. He relished that stiffer test of stamina to catapult himself into the frame for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival but this further step up in distance asks a more searching question of his reserves. Jockey Robbie Power reported after Thurles that 'He is so lazy, I think he would stay any trip' but three miles on testing ground against thorough stayers will expose any chinks.
Progressed well in his novice season, gaining rich compensation for an unfortunate incident at Cheltenham when beating Outlander at Punchestown on his first run over three miles. Finished a long way behind that rival last time after racing wide and making a late mistake with the yielding ground arguably too testing. Trainer Andrew Lynch offered an upbeat assessment of the ground after walking the course in the week but hard to see conditions being significantly better, if at all, which means he could struggle again.
A fascinating race with in-form pair Empire Of Dirt and Sizing John bidding to prove their class and stamina for this test respectively. Jonjo O'Neill's pair, Minella Rocco and More Of That, also have something to prove while Road To Riches and Don Poli continue on the comeback trail.
Waiting to meet them all is reigning champion Carlingford Lough who returns in good form as he attempts to join chasing greats Jodami and Beef Or Salmon in winning this race for a third time which would leave him one behind Florida Pearl.
It's tempting to side with Don Poli after his encouraging run last time as he has long looked made for this level but that appears to have been more than factored into a price of 7/2 and there's a strong case for backing Carlingford Lough at a point and a half longer with so much in his favour or at least so little to prove.
The choice of mounts is not always cut and dried in these big races with Geraghty the beneficiary of a wrong decision more than once in his career and Aidan Coleman's mount Minella Rocco could make the step up to this company in a race that should be run to suit although his trainer did declare that 'the ground is key to him and decent ground is a big plus' in the aftermath of his Festival success.
As such, ready preference has to be for Carlingford Lough.