All focus on Elliott's Don Cossack
RACING:If Ireland’s top two-miler Sizing Europe can’t win at Punchestown tomorrow, then any ideas of beating Sprinter Sacre at Cheltenham in five weeks time will seem ludicrous.
So the prime focus of a lucrative festival-trials fixture worth nearly €230,000 in prizemoney is likely to be the eagerly-anticipated reappearance of Don Cossack.
The horse widely regarded as the most exciting young prospect in the country before Christmas is on a retrieval mission in the Grade Two Moscow Flyer Hurdle when he reverts to two miles and faces five opponents. Even the step back in distance is a reflection of the uncertainty surrounding Don Cossack right now on the back of his Navan Hurdle flop in December.
Trainer Gordon Elliott was resolutely focussed on more distance for the Gigginstown owned star after his maiden success but all plans were on hold when Don Cossack barely raised a gallop behind Pont Alexandre.
He was beaten long before exiting with a tired stumble after the last and it was firmly a case of back to the drawing-board.
Enough of Don Cossack’s reputation remains though for him to be as low as 12 to 1 in some ante-post Neptune lists, and even 10 to 1 for the two-mile Supreme at Cheltenham, an option that seemed all but ignored not so long ago.
Two-mile speed won’t be an issue tomorrow with ground conditions so testing and if a rejuvenated Don Cossack turns up, he should be hard to beat.
Willie Mullins is chasing four-in-a-row in the race but Mozoltov looks to race very keenly which won’t be good in these conditions while Ned Buntline’s Christmas form was hardly boosted by Urano last weekend.
So, the race, and indeed much of the meeting’s significance looks to revolve around Don Cossack.
Even desperate going shouldn’t prevent Sizing Europe dominating the five-runner Boylesports Tied Cottage Chase for which he was as low as 1 to 6 yesterday.
Even at 11, Henry De Bromhead’s star looks the one most likely to give Sprinter Sacre a race of it next month in the Champion Chase. He is certainly well clear of this weekend’s opposition on figures and form.
“Every time you get on him it’s always a good day and hopefully everything goes to plan,” Sizing Europe’s jockey Andrew Lynch said. “You can’t not look forward to riding a horse like him and obviously he’s going to take a bit of beating.”
The €75,000 Dan Moore Chase, moved from the cancelled Fairyhouse card, has a British runner in Coole River but Willie Mullins has steadfastly pointed Lambro at this pot and even topweight may not stop him.
The champion trainer also makes the interesting call to run the novice Vesper Bell, on just his third chase start, off topweight in the marathon National Trial over three and a half miles. That suggests Mullins thinks Vesper Bell is ahead of a 138 rating.
However, it’s still a big ask to hump 11st 10lb in these conditions and the ex-Mullins trained Arbor Supreme could be an alternative.
Runner-up in this race five years ago, Arbor Supreme is a dour stayer who ran a blinder in the Welsh National, the form of which was advertised by Jadanli in the Thyestes.
Some of Ireland’s hopes for cross-country glory at the festival will tackle Punchestown’s banks tomorrow and in the conditions Uncle Junior may be the one to be on. Tony McCoy will be on board Byerley Babe in the opener and Robert Tyner’s mare can progress enough from her pre-Christmas bumper success at Thurles to beat Upazo and Dancers Dilemma.