Philip Fenton delays Last Instalment Gold Cup call
Trainer wary of drying ground at Cheltenham for returning horse
Trainer Phillip Fenton celebrates winning The Hennessy Gold Cup with Last Instalment at Leopardstown in February. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Cheltenham countdown: Trainer Philip Fenton has confirmed Last Instalment will head to England later on Sunday, with a decision on his participation in the Cheltenham Gold Cup unlikely to be made until the middle of the week.
The Gigginstown House Stud-owned nine-year-old has returned from a near two-year absence seemingly better than ever judged by his brilliant display in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown last month.
He is among the leading contenders for the Gold Cup on Friday, but connections have repeatedly stated he will only run if ground conditions are on the easy side due to the leg problems which kept him off the track for so long.
Fenton said: “He’s heading over this afternoon and a decision will be made over there later in the week.
“We’ll see how the ground is riding and we’ll have the course walked a couple of times. We’ll be making a decision as late as possible.
“We’ll hope there might be a bit of frost to keep a bit of moisture in the ground. The horse is in good shape, so we’ll see what happens.”
Last Instalment is one of three intended Festival runners for Fenton, with Coral Cup top weight Dunguib set for his fourth visit to Prestbury Park.
Winner of the 2009 Champion Bumper, third in the 2010 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and eighth in the Champion Hurdle a year later, the 11-year-old spent almost three years on the sidelines until returning in January, when an encouraging third at Naas.
Dunguib then turned in an impressive display to take the Boyne Hurdle at Navan by six lengths.
Fenton said: “He’s on-song and on target. He’s rated 154 over there (England) and he’s 3lb higher at home, so we’ll see what happens.
“This is the right race for him and this is probably his last chance of running in Cheltenham, being an 11-year-old. He’s in good shape and we’re hoping for the best.”
Fenton’s third Festival challenger is Champion Bumper contender Value At Risk.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Fly will face eight rivals when he bids for a third victory in the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday.
Willie Mullins’s brilliant 10-year-old will be aiming to secure an incredible 20th Grade One success in the feature event on the opening day of the Festival.
Hurricane Fly is the Irish champion trainer’s only runner after the expected withdrawals of Annie Power, Un De Sceaux and Thousand Stars.
The New One, representing Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies, is rated by bookmakers as the biggest threat to Hurricane Fly, while last year’s jaw-dropping Triumph Hurdle hero Our Conor has twice run well behind Mullins’s champion this season.
Nicky Henderson’s My Tent Or Yours and the Jessica Harrington-trained Jezki are two major contenders for JP McManus, with Captain Cee Bee also declared for the leading owner.
Jeremy Scott’s stable star Melodic Rendezvous, Paul Nicholls’s Ptit Zig and the Alan King-trained Grumeti complete the Champion Hurdle field.