With 50 days to the start of the Cheltenham festival, connections of Presenting Percy are keeping fingers firmly crossed they will be able to get vital match practice into the Magners Gold Cup favourite at Gowran this week.
Quick ground conditions that have dominated much of the winter action to date have prevented Presenting Percy from running this season. The hope now is he can return to action in Thursday’s John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle. Presenting Percy won the Grade Two contest a year ago.
Despite missing out on appearances in both the John Durkan Chase and the Savills Chase last month, the 2018 RSA winner continues to top the Gold Cup betting at a general 4-1.
However, time pressure appears to be increasing if trainer Pat Kelly is to get the two pre-festival runs into Presenting Percy he feels are necessary for him to be at his best in Cheltenham in March.
The Galmoy and the Red Mills Chase back at Gowran next month have been nominated as a likely route to Cheltenham, although Presenting Percy also holds an entry in the Grade One Unibet Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival in a fortnight.
As has been the case all season, the condition of the Gowran ground will be central to whether or not the Gold Cup favourite can make his eagerly anticipated return to action this week.
The going at Gowran is yielding and, on Sunday, Kelly said: "Hopefully they get plenty of rain, that's all I can say at the moment." The Co Galway trainer admitted he would prefer the ground to be softer "for safety". But he stressed he will talk with owner Philip Reynolds before making any plans.
With the shadow of the Cheltenham festival looming ever larger, though, getting Presenting Percy back into action will be of huge importance in assessing his fitness levels.
You could be flying at home but matches bring on hurlers and races bring on horses
The eight-year-old star has been ready to run for some time, but Kelly said it isn’t possible to put a percentage figure on his state of readiness at this stage of the campaign.
“You couldn’t actually do it. You can see the way things have worked out all year with Samcro and Footpad and the whole lot. You need a run to really know where you are – that’s as simple as it would be,” he said.
Kelly repeated his desire to get two runs into his stable star before Cheltenham, and added: “You could be flying at home but matches bring on hurlers and races bring on horses.”
An appearance by Presenting Percy on Thursday would also bring plenty of race fans to Gowran, which hosts its traditional winter handicap highlight, the €100,000 Goffs Thyestes Chase.
Henry De Bromhead won the 2017 Thyestes for owner Roger Brookhouse with Champagne West, and the same combination have the current 9-1 ante-post favourite for the feature event in Solomn Grundy.
On his last appearance the nine-year-old was fourth to Auvergnat in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. Last year’s Monbeg Notorious is one of eight entries among the 36 horses still left in the Thyestes owned by Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team.
The Ryanair boss saw his Gigginstown colours dominate the finish of Sunday’s feature at Thurles when the 13-8 favourite Tout Est Permis caught Sub Lieutenant in the final stride of the Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase.
Both Don Cossack (2016) and Sizing John (2017) won the race, when known as the Kinloch Brae, on route to Cheltenham Gold Cup glory. Whether Tout Est Permis will try to emulate them is unclear. He holds a Gold Cup entry but is also in the Ryanair, which is sponsored by his owner.
I haven't enjoyed a winner as much in a long time because I was down at the final fence and I was sure he was beaten
Sunday's race was over an extended 2½ miles and Tout Est Permis was "flat to the mat" for much of the race according to his trainer Noel Meade before finally nailing Sub Lieutenant on the line.
“I haven’t enjoyed a winner as much in a long time because I was down at the final fence and I was sure he was beaten. I couldn’t believe he got up.
“The story is he wants further and softer ground as well. It was plenty quick for him. What will happen next I don’t know but he could well run in the Ryanair. He is improving and putting on weight and getting stronger all the time,” Meade reported.
“He is in both the Ryanair and the Gold Cup and while he’d love the Gold Cup trip he is only six, so we’ll see,” he added.
Meade and jockey Sean Flanagan had earlier scored with the odds-on First Approach, who finished alone in a novice hurdle after both his rivals fell, including Cool Saint who exited at the last when challenging.
In other news the Grade One winner Paisley Park could put his Stayers Hurdle credentials to the test at Cheltenham this Saturday.
Winner of last month’s Long Walk at Ascot, Paisley Park could attempt to follow up in the Cleeve Hurdle.
“We are keen to run as I think it’s a long wait for the Stayers Hurdle otherwise. Plus we can get some more experience into him,” said trainer Emma Lavelle. “We wouldn’t want a slog, but provided it is genuine, nice ground, we will look to run.”
Thistlecrack won the Cleeve en route to Stayers glory at the festival in 2016. Big Buck’s also completed the double in both 2009 and 2012.