Morris hopeful First Lieutenant will run big race in Hennessy


RACING:Irish racing’s “Little and Large” are in pursuit of big-race glory in Britain today with Michael O’Leary’s pair, First Lieutenant and Magnanimity, joined by the Fairyhouse Grand National hero Lion Na Bearnai in Newbury’s Hennessy Gold Cup.

Lion Na Bearnai has specialised in beating the odds for trainer Thomas Gibney, who trains just a handful of horses near Kells. That famous 33 to 1 success in last Easter’s Irish National was preceded by a 50 to 1 victory in the Ten Up Chase at Navan, and Andy Thornton’s mount attempts to take that big-race touch across channel this afternoon.

“The horse has travelled well and he handles any kind of ground so we’re not worried about that. My only real concern is that we missed our intended prep race a month ago. All the other boxes are ticked so we’re hopeful,” Gibney said yesterday.

“He is rated just a pound higher in England than in Ireland so in terms of a new season we just hope he can pick up where he left off.”

Facing a battle

Lion Na Bearnai’s compatriots among the 19-strong field in the prestigious handicap represent the hugely-powerful Gigginstown Stud team but the Irish trio will still face a battle against the statistics.

It is 32 years since the last Irish-trained Hennessy winner, Bright Highway, although Willie Mullins’s Be My Royal was first past the post in 2002 only to be thrown out for failing a dope test.

Mouse Morris has tried repeatedly to break that run and relies this time on his former star novice First Lieutenant, runner-up to Kauto Stone at Down Royal last month, who again clashes with his RSA conqueror Bobs Worth. “He is obviously a much shorter price than us. Maybe they [bookmakers] are right, but it won’t bother me – the horse doesn’t know what price he is,” Morris said yesterday.

“Ideally we’d like better ground, but then so would he [Bobs Worth], so what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I’m very hopeful our horse is going to run a big race. Hopefully the ground is drying out a bit and it isn’t going to be too bad. There’s nowhere else for him to go before the Lexus so he might as well run,” he added.

Forecast promising

Gigginstown also plan to be in Grade One action at Newcastle where Trifolium is one of just four set to run in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle if the track passes an 8am inspection.

“We are 80 per cent raceable, with just the opened up or exposed areas that are a problem. The forecast is promising as it is not forecast to freeze for as long as it did overnight – we were below zero degrees from 9pm on Thursday until 8am or 9am this morning,” said clerk of the course, James Armstrong yesterday. “But if the forecast is right, we should have a good chance.”

Trifolium disappointed on his return but trainer Charles Byrnes is hopeful. “He was very distressed after the race in Punchestown and hopefully the minor wind operation he’s had since will have made a bit of a difference to him.”

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