Don Cossack bids to make the Grade One for O'Leary
Michael O’Leary’s hugely powerful Gigginstown Stud team has yet to hit the Grade One scoreboard this season but it will be a major setback if Don Cossack can’t change that statistic at Navan this Sunday.
Already favourite in most ante-post lists for all three of the top novices’ hurdle events at Cheltenham – which cover the distance spectrum from the two miles of the Supreme to the Albert Bartlett’s three miles – Don Cossack is set to have just his second start over jumps in Sunday’s Grade One Navan Novice Hurdle.
A hugely impressive winner at the Co Meath course on his jumping debut last month, Don Cossack also won the second of his three bumpers at Navan last year and heads to the weekend with a sky-high reputation.
He is one of just 10 left in the two-and-a-half-mile event which also includes three other Gigginstown entries, Rule The World, Ally Cascade and Rye Martini. Possible opposition includes the Monksfield winner Busty Brown and a quartet of Willie Mullins hopes including the hat-trick-seeking mare Reine Angevine and the Royal Bond third Zuzka.
There will be intense focus on Don Cossack, however, as trainer Gordon Elliott ups the horse he once labelled an “aeroplane” to two and a half miles after debuting at the minimum distance.
Success on Sunday will be the first top-flight victory of the campaign so far for Gigginstown and O’Leary, something that puts the Ryanair boss behind schedule when compared to the same time last year.
By now in 2011, both Quito De La Roque (Nicholson Chase) and Bog Warrior (Drinmore Chase) had landed Grade One victories but this term has been frustrating to date with First Lieutenant, Dedigout and Sir Des Champs all finishing runner-up at the highest level.
Not surprisingly ground conditions at Navan yesterday were officially “heavy” ahead of a weekend card that also includes a pair of Grade Two prizes and the possible chasing debut of last year’s Navan Novice Hurdle winner Boston Bob.
He is one of five Willie Mullins entries in the two-and-a-half-mile Beginners Chase and the champion has also left in his Killarney winner Union Dues in the Grade Future Champions Bumpern.
It is currently scheduled to open with the Grade Two Tara Hurdle which has attracted Jonjo O’Neill’s high-class runner Get Me Out Of Here, a winner at Fairyhouse’s Easter Festival last term, but a long last behind Oscar Whiskey at Ascot on his previous start. The in-form trainer Oliver McKiernan has also left in his surprise 25 to 1 Lismullen winner Whatuthink.
One star novice that will be off for Christmas is Moscow Mannon who made a winning debut over flights at Navan last weekend.
The Grade Two Slaney Hurdle at Naas in the first week of January will be the next outing for Brian Hamilton’s former bumper star. “He’s come out of the race great, he’s A1,” said Hamilton yesterday. “Everything went perfect. He’ll have an easy week now and we’ll step him back up to run at Naas next month.” Moscow Mannon was fourth to Champagne Fever in the Cheltenham bumper last season and Hamilton added: “There’s nothing for him over two and a half miles before then so he’ll run in the Slaney Hurdle and we’ll see how he gets on.”
Double on the cards For Carmody and Murtagh
The emergence of the Johnny Murtagh-Tommy Carmody team, in association with leading English owner Andrew Tinkler, was a feature of the Irish racing scene in 2012 and they can emphasise the point once again at Dundalk this evening.
It is 11 months since Carmody trained his first winner in 10 years from the Curragh yard owned by Murtagh when Miss Mediator carried Tinkler’s colours to success under the lights at Dundalk.
A spate of winners since then was highlighted by Royal Diamond’s dramatic Irish Leger victory in September and both Benbecula and Collingbourneducis are in line to again advertise Carmody and Murtagh’s talents with horses imported from Britain.
Benbecula and Collingbourneducis were with Richard Hannon earlier in the year and the former showed enough on his first Irish start here to suggest a step up to a mile and a half should suit in the concluding maiden.
A pair of Carmody runners have been declared for the juvenile maiden but Collingbourneducis is Murtagh’s pick and should also relish a step up to a mile after a sole start to date at Newbury behind his then stable companion Carry On Sydney.