Owner O’Leary ‘leaning towards Ryanair’

Dedigout ridden by Davy Russell wins the The Naas Directors Plate Novice Steeplechase during the Woodlands Park 100 Club Leinster National and Mothers Day at Naas Racecourse, Naas, Ireland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday March 10, 2013. See PA Story RACING Naas. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Dedigout ridden by Davy Russell wins the The Naas Directors Plate Novice Steeplechase during the Woodlands Park 100 Club Leinster National and Mothers Day at Naas Racecourse, Naas, Ireland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday March 10, 2013. See PA Story RACING Naas. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Mon, Mar 11, 2013, 09:33

BRIAN O’CONNOR

The concept of “standby” might not suit Ryanair but its boss Michael O’Leary appears to be employing such a tactic ahead of Friday’s Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.

O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team own all three Irish hopes remaining in steeplechasing’s blue riband with Sir Des Champs a clear number one contender.

Both First Lieutenant and Bog Warrior are still in the big race too but have alternative engagements in the Ryanair and the Ladbrokes World Hurdle respectively on Thursday.

Bookmakers reckon First Lieutenant is set to take up the entry for the race sponsored by his owner and O’Leary’s brother Eddie, who oversees the Gigginstown operation, admitted at Naas yesterday he is “leaning towards the Ryanair”.

Kick off
However, with the festival due to kick off tomorrow, O’Leary was keen to rule nothing in or out, something that also applies to Bog Warrior who has a choice of hurdling or a return to fences this week.

“I don’t know yet what’s going to happen. He’s still in both. But I am happy the ground is soft over there. It looks like we’re going to go with him, and I’ll have to wait and hear what the lads want to do,” said Bog Warrior’s trainer Tony Martin.

Bog Warrior fell on his only start over fences this season at Down Royal in November, since when he has risen through the staying hurdler ranks with a number of impressive performances.

However, Martin insisted yesterday: “The day he fell was my fault, getting him to try and lead, and he wasn’t fit. I would have no worries about his jumping.

“I’d ride him around Aintree myself!”

A late call also looks like taking place on whether or not Sizing Europe tackles Sprinter Sacre in Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase or waits for Thursday’s Ryanair.

Not committing
Having reportedly said last week he was slightly favouring the two-mile task, trainer Henry De Bromhead wasn’t committing himself either way yesterday.

“No decision has been made,” he said. “One day I think we’re going one way; another day, it’s different.”

Final declarations for the Champion Chase, which Sizing Europe famously won in 2011, will be made this morning.

Ground conditions for the festival are forecast to be the softest for almost two decades. The going at Cheltenham is soft and little or no drying is expected with very cold weather being anticipated for the majority of the festival, and daytime temperatures not expected to peak past six degrees.

Frost covers have been put down.

Simon Claisse, clerk of the course at Cheltenham, reported yesterday: “The forecast remains for some wintry showers over the next couple of days. There has been no rain since early Saturday morning. The ground, though, is unlikely to dry out much under the covers. It is soft everywhere. This cold spell is forecast to last through to Thursday.”

The prospect of soft ground has seen a swelling of support for Irish hopes with punters wagering on a big increase on last year’s disappointing Irish tally of five winners.

Stan James rate 10 or more Irish winners as their favourite in the always popular market and spokesman, Joe Burke, said: “Due to the dominance of the Willie Mullins stable, coupled with the likelihood of soft ground for the duration of the festival we have been snowed under with support for Irish-trained horses at Cheltenham.”

The firm also reported a deluge of support for a horse yet to have his first race for Mullins, the expensive French purchase, Kalmann, in Wednesday’s Fred Winter Hurdle.

“It’s a very interesting move. He has halved from 16/1 to 8/1 following plenty each-way support,” Burke said.

Grade Three success
Cheltenham ambitions were held for Dedigout before his season unravelled after Christmas. However, Tony Martin’s novice bounced back to something like his best with a Grade Three success yesterday in the Naas Directors Plate.

“I’m happy that he jumped and travelled today. He gave himself a bad fright at Leopardstown (Christmas) but that was much better,” trainer Tony Martin said.

“We’ll see what we do with him now but he does look to be ground-dependant.”

Mallowney negotiated the jump from handicap company to black type class without any fuss in the Listed hurdle, galloping all over his opposition on the run to the last and only having to be nudged home by Paul Carberry.

“He seems to be getting better with every race and ground doesn’t bother him,” said trainer Tim Doyle.

“But I’m really looking forward to him going chasing,” he added.

Wexford trainer Liz Doyle got a boost ahead of Le Vent D’Antan’s Champion Bumper attempt yesterday when Rich Revival was a 7/1 winner of the Leinster National. The winner will be aimed next at the Irish National on Easter Monday.

“Hopefully the ground will stay soft around then, as he does like it,” said Doyle’s partner, Barry Murphy.

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