Lough goes for Gold hat-trick

Views from connections ahead of the Stan James Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday.

Carlingford Lough winning last year's Irish Gold Cup

Carlingford Lough returns to one of his favourite stomping grounds as he bids for a third victory in the Stan James Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday.

Should John Kiely's charge bring up the hat-trick, he would join a select club by equalling Jodami's three wins in the Grade One with only Florida Pearl, who won four renewals, ranking any better in the history of the race.

Carlingford Lough has struck five times at the highest level, with his three Leopardstown wins supplemented by two successes at Punchestown.

Only seen once this season when a respectable fourth to Jezki over hurdles, he is the pick of three JP McManus-owned runners for jockey Barry Geraghty, with the Jonjo O'Neill-trained pair of Minella Rocco and More Of That also sporting the green and gold silks.

"He's been a very consistent horse down the years, particularly at Leopardstown and Punchestown where he seems to excel," said McManus' racing manager Frank Berry.

"He's been a horse we've had a lot of success with and he's been very lucky for us.

"John is very happy with him at the moment and obviously it would be great to win it for a third time.

"He was late starting back this season, he had a few little niggly problems, so it was decided this would be his big aim again.

"He's back in good form once more and we're hoping for the best."

O'Neill's pair have both yet to strike, with Minella Rocco, who beat Native River in the four-miler at Cheltenham last season, finishing third on his return at Cheltenham in November before falling last time out at Aintree when battling it out with the ill-fated Many Clouds.

More Of That remains the only horse to have beaten Annie Power when lifting the 2014 World Hurdle, but has yet to hit anywhere near the same heights over fences and was last seen when finishing sixth in the Lexus at Christmas.

"It looked like it would have been a good run (for Minella Rocco) at Aintree if he'd stood up, especially given poor Many Clouds won again at Cheltenham," said Berry.

"His first run of the season in a handicap was also good so he's progressing.

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"Jonjo is happy with him so we decided to run him in a Grade One to see where we are with him.

"More Of That ran reasonably well in the Lexus, it was a bit better than his earlier runs.

"With both of them we'll know a lot more about where they are heading after this. With Minella we'll know if he's a Gold Cup horse or a National one.

"Hopefully they come back safe and we can start making plans."

Gordon Elliott runs two and they dominate the betting with Don Poli, who bounced back to form when second in the Lexus, favoured over Empire Of Dirt, winner of three major handicaps on his last three outings.

"I thought it was a very good run by Don Poli (in the Lexus)," Elliott told At The Races.

"It's going to be a competitive race on Sunday, but the ease in the ground will suit him and David Mullins, who got a good tune out of him the last day, rides him again.

"He's in good form and if he puts that run in again, he'll take all the beating."

Empire Of Dirt joined Elliott after Colm Murphy's retirement and dotted up in the Troytown on his first start for his new yard.

"Empire Of Dirt has won his last three and they've all been big handicap chases. It's a big step up for him, but he's in good form, too," said Elliott.

"He hasn't got that many miles on the clock. He's had his fair share of problems, but he has a big engine when he's right and hopefully he can show that again on Sunday."

Sizing John's class has never been in doubt but he kept bumping into two-mile star Douvan.

Stepped up in trip for the Kinloch Brae, he appeared to relish the extra distance and beat a solid yardstick in Sub Lieutenant.

"Unfortunately he's been around in the same generation as Douvan in his hurdles career and in novice chases. I think he's been second six or seven times to him so it seemed the logical step to go over two and a half miles," said Harrington.

"He did that well at Thurles and we left our options open to trying him over three.

"He's a very relaxed horse so he'll give himself a chance of staying it."

Noel Meade's affection for Road To Riches has never been in doubt and neither is his ability, having been third in the Gold Cup and the Ryanair at the last two Cheltenham Festivals.

This season has been a bit stop-start with injury, but Meade expects him to improve markedly from his run in the Lexus, for which he had to be pushed to get there.

"Hopefully he's in good shape, I've been really happy with him since Christmas," said Meade.

"I would hope he's improved for the run in the Lexus. It was a very rushed prep for that because he'd had that back operation (for a kissing spine).

"Given all that, I'm hoping he'll improve a good bit."

Zabana, seventh in the Lexus, completes the field.

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