Sir Des Champs to keep hopes alive
Davy Russell on Sir Des Champs: "I'm hoping to win. He's progressing as we go along and he's improved again at home"
RACING: HENNESSY GOLD CUPJust twice has a Hennessy winner gone on to ultimate glory a month later in the Cheltenham Gold Cup but Sir Des Champs can keep Michael O’Leary’s blue-riband dreams alive with success in today’s €160,000 feature at Leopardstown.
A trio of other Grade One prizes makes this the last major Cheltenham trials opportunity and there have been many years when the support events have been more important than the Hennessy in terms of pre-festival significance. But that’s not the case this time.
Sir Des Champs and Flemenstar are widely expected to dominate a five-runner declaration that has had further spice added to it with the confirmation of another of the Ryanair boss’s Gigginstown team, Bog Warrior.
But all eyes will still be on the ‘big-two’, especially given the Cheltenham potential both might exhibit on their final starts before likely trips to the all-important festival.
Of course this afternoon’s card is a hugely-lucrative opportunity in itself. Just ask Willie Mullins who could saddle the favourite in all three of the novice races and pitches Sir Des Champs into the Hennessy.
Victory for Sir Des Champs, or last year’s winner Quel Esprit, will be a staggering ninth win in just 14 years for Mullins.
But it is interesting to speculate how many of the eight he would swap for just one Gold Cup success at Cheltenham: it is the pot at the other side of the Irish Sea that has always mattered most.
No one realises that more than O’Leary whose modus operandi for an ever-more-influential bloodstock operation revolves around finding potential Gold Cup candidates.
War Of Attrition memorably fuelled the obsession in 2006 and it is Sir Des Champs that has been the one who has evolved best since then to a stage where he is in line as a potential Gold Cup successor.
Should he win impressively today, the likelihood of better ground around a track he loves could see him challenge Bob’s Worth for Gold Cup favouritism.
Jockey Davy Russell was very hopeful yesterday and said: “Realistically I’m hoping to win. He’s progressing as we go along and he’s improved again at home. He’ll need to. He has 5lb to find on his handicap mark with Flemenstar.”
In contrast, should Flemenstar win impressively, it might provoke more questions than it answers. His trainer Peter Casey said yesterday he would love a crack at Cheltenham’s Champion Chase but a Hennessy victory could put the Gold Cup firmly back in the picture.
“Whether he stays or whether he’s good enough, only time will tell, but everything is right with the horse,” said Casey who wouldn’t reveal any possible tactical changes in the way Andrew Lynch rides Flemenstar compared to the Lexus.
“There are only five runners and we’ve sat down and had the meeting about tactics, but I can’t tell you what they are – you’ll have to wait until the day and see,” he said.
If Flemenstar adopts the pace-forcing tactics he likes, it would suit his flamboyant jumping but could also turn the race into a stamina test that in all probability will suit Sir Des Champs more. But this close to Cheltenham, it isn’t usual for there to be such doubt over a major Grade One star’s festival objective. In contrast, there are no such doubts about Sir Des Champs. He is on the Gold Cup trail, and come 3.30 today, can be even more firmly on it.