First Lieutenant to motor home in Lexus Chase at Leopardstown
Mouse Morris-trained star can repel the challenge of Gold Cup hero Bobs Worth
First Lieutenant is beaten by Bobs Worth (left) in the 2012 RSA Chase, but can gain revenge in today’s Lexus Chase.
First Lieutenant doesn’t win very often, and Irish horses don’t win the Lexus Chase very often, but even with the Gold Cup hero, Bobs Worth, raiding Leopardstown’s €150,000 third-day highlight, there could be sweet revenge in store for the Mouse Morris-trained star at the Dublin track today.
One of the lasting images of last year’s Lexus was Morris’s anguished reaction to First Lieutenant looking to have the prize in his grasp only for Tidal Bay’s inspired finish to chin him by a head.
That was a sixth British-trained winner of the Lexus in the last seven years – only Pandorama in 2010 broke the streak – and the raiders are hardly coming under-strength this time with Bobs Worth flying into Dublin ahead of yesterday’s storm, and joined by Unioniste, who will aim to give trainer Paul Nicholls a fourth success in the race.
There is no denying Bobs Worth’s star status, though, even with Nicholls’s proven Lexus pedigree. Best Mate was a reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup champion when he scored in this race a decade ago and Bobs Worth is a triple-Cheltenham Festival winner with a proven big-race pedigree.
What he isn’t, however, is a horse travelling to Ireland on the back of an encouraging effort, as there’s no escaping the lacklustre impression he left on his comeback at Haydock last month when trailing well behind Cue Card.
Since that race also contained the subsequent King George winner, Silviniaco Conti, it was obviously a top-quality contest, but Bobs Worth was beaten too far out for much encouragement, if any, to be taken out of it by the Nicky Henderson team.
The home defence will rely heavily again on Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team which will be led by Sir Des Champs, fourth in that memorable finish 12 months ago, and subsequently winner of the Hennessy and the Punchestown Gold Cup, as well as finishing runner-up to Bobs Worth in the blue-riband at Cheltenham.
Sir Des Champs progressed through last season and will have to do the same again now as he very definitely has something to prove after a spectacular third fence fall on his comeback in the Durkan earlier this month.
First Lieutenant has plenty to prove himself with a very disappointing effort last time at Down Royal behind Roi Du Mee but Morris is hopeful his horse can put that far behind him now.
After opening his career with six wins from 10 starts, First Lieutenant’s success rate has dipped alarmingly since with only one win – at Aintree last season – from his last thirteen starts, many of which though were in the very highest class.
First Lieutenant has a succession of top-class placed efforts and with question-marks over Bobs Worth and Sir Des Champs, First Lieutenant’s claims on his best form make him a value option today.
A star-studded weekend that includes the Gold Cup hero and the Champion Hurdle winner Hurricane Fly also has another Cheltenham champion in Solwhit lining up today.
The World Hurdle winner takes on four opponents in the Woodies Christmas Hurdle, leaving only Sprinter Sacre as the only Cheltenham championship-holder not to appear at the Dublin track over the next 24 hours.
It’s a mouth-watering overall package that the greedy might believe could be better since the unbeaten mare Annie Power skips the Grade One three-mile prize, leaving her stable companion, Zaidpour, to fly the Willie Mullins flag.
Along with Rule The World, he looks to represent the biggest threat to Solwhit, a former top-class two-miler, whose return from injury to take over Big Bucks’ World Hurdle crown was one of the stories of last season.
The Charles Byrnes-trained star has his first start since finishing runner-up in the French Champion Hurdle in June but he has always been a horse that has taken relatively little work to get fit and if stripping near his best today will be very hard to beat. “It’s a big plus Annie Power doesn’t run,” Byrnes said yesterday.