Dorans Pride ready for golden moment
Cheltenham After gorging for two days already, possibly only Cheltenham could whet the appetite so much for the third and final day. The Gold Cup is steeplechasing's greatest attraction anyway, but to add to the anticipation, confidence is growing by the minute that Dorans Pride will become the 20th Irish-trained winner of the blue riband since the war.
Such confidence has an unfortunate habit of crashing to its knees at the last fence, but given a clear round and the normal luck in running, the Michael Hourigan-trained gelding must have a first-rate chance. In a festival of poignancy already, such a victory would tear at the emotions.
Nobody, least of all Hourigan, Mayo-born owner Tom Doran or Richard Dunwoody, can fail to think on such a day of Shane Broderick, the young man who guided Dorans Pride to success in the 1995 Stayers Hurdle and rode him into third in last year's Gold Cup.
Broderick is now confined to a wheelchair but the one certainty of today is that no one will be shouting louder for the chestnut than Broderick. It's worth betting that the shouts of encouragement will turn to shouts of joy.
Well as Dorans Pride ran behind Mr Mulligan last year, he should be a different proposition now. Last season he lost a vital 11 days work in the month before Cheltenham after taking a horrific fall at Thurles. Things looked like going awry again when he put in a still unexplained horror effort at Naas in January, but leapt back to form in the Hennessy and crucially has had a clear run to the festival since then.
Hourigan said yesterday: "I don't believe he didn't stay last year, it was more a case of him missing so much time before it. The only times he has ever finished tired in a race were here last year and at Naas. We don't know what happened at Naas, it was probably just one of those things, but I am more than pleased with him now."
That should be enough for punters because in the circumstances, Dorans Pride at his best looks the best qualified of what, besides him and See More Business, may not be a vintage Gold Cup field.
This looks a field of admirable if hardly frightening opposition. Of the main ones in the betting, there appears to be a substantial lack of confidence behind Suny Bay. Rough Quest has surely had his chance as he is now 12; Barton Bank can't seem to get his head in front and the ground appears to have turned against Cyborgo. The likes of Cool Dawn and Addington Boy should go well but ultimately look like being cannon fodder for Dorans Pride and See More Business. In a match though, Dorans Pride should hold the aces.
In previous meetings between the two, the Irish horse has won and won comfortably. Dorans Pride may not be a spectacular jumper but he is steady and what would See More Business' trainer Paul Nicholls give for a solid round of jumping. It's worth betting that See More Business makes a serious mistake at some stage of today's race.
Throw in the opinion that Dorans Pride will be better suited by the drying ground and you have a pretty good case for him winning. It may not be a watertight case but it's enough to justify the nap.
Today could be one of those rare afternoons when the bookmakers take a hammering. Even with the ground drying out rapidly, Paddy's Return, trained by Wexford-born Ferdy Murphy, looks impossible to oppose in the Stayers Hurdle. Paddy's Return, winner of the Triumph two years ago, looked very unlucky in this race last season when committed too early by Richard Hughes and folding in the straight behind Karshi.
However, at Ascot last December, he looked every inch a future Stayers winner when annihilating his opposition and Norman Williamson is unlikely to make the same mistake as Hughes if the Murphy-trained horse is in the same form again.
Williamson's Tidebrook also looks to be ahead of the handicapper in the Grand Annual while two other men who may be in double form are Martin Pipe and Tony McCoy.
Cyfor Malta is the selection in the Cathcart Trophy while Blowing Wind won Saturday's Imperial Cup at Sandown with such ease that even a 7lb penalty doesn't look like stopping him in what is traditionally the getting-out heat of the festival.
By then though, the vast majority of Irish punters shouldn't need to look at the County as a getting out race. The ground looks to have come right for Elegant Lord to repeat his 1996 win in the Foxhunters and with his trainer, Enda Bolger, in the saddle, they will be many people's good thing again.
Only the foolish will view the Triumph Hurdle as a vehicle for any good thing but Darapour will be a very hard nut to crack. At around 10 to 1, he looks a decent bet to be another Irish winner at the festival.