After weeks of speculation on whether or not Last Instalment would be prevented by the racing authorities from taking his place in Friday's Cheltenham Gold Cup it appears the elements now look the biggest threat to Ireland's main hope of "blue-riband" success.
The Gigginstown Stud-owned star left for Cheltenham yesterday and will be met by ground conditions officially described as good to soft when he is taken out onto the track this morning.
Connections insist Last Instalment needs conditions on the easy side if he is to take his chance having spent almost two years on the sidelines with two separate bouts of leg trouble. He returned to action in January and scored a scintillating Hennessy victory last month that propelled him to the forefront of the Gold Cup betting.
Since then trainer Philip Fenton has been embroiled in controversy surrounding charges of possession of unlicensed medicines, including anabolic steroids, with a hearing adjourned to next week. But the Co Tipperary-based trainer has a more immediate task in deciding midweek if Last Instalment's trip across the Irish Sea will have been in vain.
"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," Fenton said yesterday.
“We hope there might be a bit of frost to keep a bit of moisture in the ground. The horse is in good shape.”
The elements don’t look like co-operating though with the forecast for the coming week predominantly dry and a projected highest temperature of 19 degrees. Clerk of the course Simon Claisse hasn’t even ruled out watering for the final two days of the festival.
Claisse said: “We’re good to soft on the old and new courses and the cross-country course is good to soft, soft in places. The outlook remains dry and bright and we’ll monitor things day by day regarding the two days at the end of the week.”
Fenton is set to have a couple of runners on Wednesday with Dunguib topweight for the Coral Cup and Value At Risk set to contest the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.
All three of Fenton’s festival hopes returned negative results when dope-tested by the British Horseracing Authority last week.
Dunguib has returned this season from almost three years out injured and won the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle on his last start. "He's on-song and on target. He's rated 154 over there and he's 3lb higher at home so we'll see what happens. This is the right race for him and it's probably his last chance of running in Cheltenham being an 11-year-old," Fenton said of the 2009 Champion Bumper winner.
Hurricane Fly will lead a team of four Irish hopes into tomorrow's Stan James Champion Hurdle as he pursues a third championship victory and a remarkable 20th Grade One success in all.
Willie Mullins’s superstar will be joined by both Jezki and Captain Cee Bee, as well as Our Conor who has been in residence at the racecourse since Thursday.
"He thrived when he got there last year before winning the Triumph so we decided to send him over again well in advance of his target," Our Conor's trainer Dessie Hughes said yesterday.
Hurricane Fly's rival at the top of the Champion Hurdle betting continues to be The New One. JP McManus, owner of Jezki and Captain Cee Bee, will also field the Nicky Henderson trained My Tent Or Yours, conqueror of The New One in Kempton's Christmas Hurdle.