Morris has no fears in taking on Alexandre
Speculation is growing that First Lieutenant (above) will run in the Ryanair Chase, sponsored by his owner Michael O'Leary, instead of next week's Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival
RACING:Mouse Morris might not yet know which festival target First Lieutenant will end up tackling at Cheltenham next week but he does know Pont Alexandre’s huge reputation isn’t going to stop him tackling the Neptune hotpot with Rule The World.
Morris landed the day two highlight in 2011 with First Lieutenant who beat none other than the subsequent Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby in a memorable photo-finish.
Pont Alexandre dominates ante-post betting for the two-mile-and-five-furlong event but that isn’t going to sway the Co Tipperary-based trainer from also aiming at the Neptune instead of switching Rule The World to the three-mile Albert Bartlett.
“One horse has never stopped me from running in a race before and it looks like we will go for the Neptune too,” Morris indicated yesterday. “I don’t think what the weather does between now and then will influence us either way.”
Morris’s own regard for Rule The World has been obvious since the Gigginstown Stud owned star put Minsk and a below-par Champagne Fever to the sword in January’s Slaney Hurdle at Naas.
He is currently a best-priced 10/1 shot for the Neptune.
Plans remain much less clear about First Lieutenant with a decision about whether he will go for the Gold Cup or switch to the previous day’s Ryanair Chase not likely to be made until this weekend. Sir Des Champs remains the likely Gigginstown number one for steeplechasing’s blue-riband which Morris memorably won for Michael O’Leary’s team with War Of Attrition in 2006.
And speculation that First Lieutenant will instead run in the race sponsored by his owner has led to the Irish horse challenging Cue Card for favouritism in some Ryanair ante-post lists.
“It is 50-50 where he goes right now and I would imagine we will wait until the weekend. There’s a confirmation stage on Saturday so things might get clearer then,” Morris said.
The trainer has an enviable festival record since saddling his first Cheltenham winner as a trainer with Buck House in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 30 years ago.
This time Morris could have up to five horses travelling to Prestbury Park including Baily Green, an outsider behind Simonsig for Tuesday’s Arkle, but who is, according to trainer, “a possible to run into a place. It might be the first time he’s got his ground in a while”.
Ground conditions don’t seem to matter to Hurricane Fly but Ruby Walsh is anxious for the Champion Hurdle favourite to show everyone what he is capable of next week.
“He’s a really good horse but has only shown his true colours in the UK once. He’s bidding for a place in history and I’d love him to show them again,” the Irishman said.
Only Comedy Of Errors (1973-75) has ever regained the Champion Hurdle crown but Walsh will be disappointed if Willie Mullins’s star can’t do the same. “There’s nothing about Cheltenham that doesn’t suit him, it was just circumstances last year. It was a difficult year for him and he’s in a much better place this year.
“It won’t be that straightforward in the Champion Hurdle but he’s a cracking little horse. He has pace, he has stamina, he’s slick and he has what you need. He’s more relaxed these days and Willie can do exactly what he wants when he’s training him.
“Of course I’d be disappointed if he didn’t win,” Walsh added.
No World Quevega to target Mares only
Willie Mullins appears to have knocked on the head any chance of his star mare Quevega attempting an audacious Cheltenham festival double in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle next week.
Quevega is heavy odds-on favourite for next Tuesday’s OLBG.comMares Hurdle, a race she has won for the previous four years. However, she also remains in the World Hurdle 48 hours later and is as low as 7/2 in some ante-post lists for the three mile crown.
However, the champion trainer has confirmed the mares race is Quevega’s festival target and agreed that she could be taken out of World Hurdle betting lists.
“I think so – unless the mares hurdle is cancelled!” Mullins said. The last horse to complete five-in-a-row at the festival was the legendary Golden Miller in the 1930s.