Our Duke and Bellshill clash
View from connections ahead of Sunday's Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown.
Bellshill: Clashes with Our Duke on Sunday
Our Duke bids for a second successive Grade One victory at Leopardstown in Sunday's Flogas Novice Chase.
The Jessica Harrington-trained seven-year-old needed every yard of the three-mile trip when getting up late to deny Coney Island in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase at this venue over Christmas.
He tackles the slightly shorter distance of two miles and five furlongs this weekend, but Harrington is hoping for another bold show.
"I was absolutely delighted at Christmas considering that was just his second run over fences and the ground was quicker than he'd ever encountered," said the Moone-based trainer.
"All in all everything happened a bit quick and he made a few mistakes, but he got there in the end showing a lot of tenacity."
Our Duke does not hold any entries at next month's Cheltenham Festival and the Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse on Easter Sunday (April 16) is his likely next port of call.
"We didn't put him in at Cheltenham as he looked like he'd need a few more runs," Harrington told At The Races.
"He's a lovely, big horse and we're thinking big in the future and that he'd be a Gold Cup horse next year. I think the owners made a very wise decision not to go to Cheltenham this year.
"I think we're looking at the Powers Gold Cup (Ryanair) at Fairyhouse and then at Punchestown, either two-and-a-half or three miles, it all depends on the ground. We don't want to do too much with him."
Our Duke faces five rivals this weekend, two of which are trained by Willie Mullins.
The champion trainer's main hope appears to be Bellshill, who is two from two over fences and ante-post favourite for Cheltenham's RSA Chase.
However, Bleu Et Rouge, who unseated Barry Geraghty in the Irish Arkle a fortnight ago, did win the Deloitte Novice Hurdle on this card 12 months ago.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: "Bellshill was good in Limerick over Christmas and I think the drier ground and longer trip will suit him.
"He's probably a better horse in the spring and he'll need to step up to match Our Duke, who is already a Grade One winner at the track.
"I think the conditions of the race suit Bellshill in terms of the trip, the track and the ground, but on official ratings he's only the third-best horse in the race, so he needs to improve.
"We're hoping stepping up in trip will help Bleu Et Rouge with his jumping – it should give him a bit more time to measure his fences. He's a Grade One winner at the track and has a lot of ability."
Gigginstown House Stud claimed last year's renewal with Outlander and are this year represented by Gordon Elliott's A Toi Phil, the Henry de Bromhead-trained Balko Des Flos and Disko from Noel Meade's stable.
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