Leopardstown challenge for Lord Windermere

Cheltenham Gold Cup champion hoping to land Hennessy at Leopardstown on Sunday

It is 21 years since a reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup champion landed Leopardstown's Hennessy, and jockey Davy Russell believes the current "blue-riband" title holder Lord Windermere will have to up his game to do the same in Sunday's €150,000 highlight.

The Jim Culloty-trained star beat only one other finisher in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, a lack-lustre effort in comparison to Lord Windermere's first start of the season at Punchestown when a fine third to Don Cossack in the John Durkan Chase.

Lord Windermere is a 7-1 shot in some ante-post lists for Sunday’s Hennessy, the centrepiece of a lucrative card featuring four Grade 1 contests which potentially could have a major impact on plans for next month’s Cheltenham festival.

Russell knows what’s required to win the Hennessy having scored two years ago on Sir Des Champs, but the former English star Jodami in 1994 remains the only horse to carry the Cheltenham Gold Cup crown into the Hennessy the following season and emerge successful.

Lord Windermere could manage only sixth in last year’s Hennessy but that didn’t stop him recording a famous success at Cheltenham a month later when Russell gave him an inspired ride, dropping him out last in the early stages before pouncing late to beat On His Own.

Reasonable race

“I went back to the tactics and dropped him out the last day (Lexus.) He ran a reasonable race, beaten the same as he was in the Lexus the previous year, but we weren’t that happy to be honest,” Russell admitted.

“After his first run at Punchestown we were over the moon and thought he was after improving from last year but he took a step back at Leopardstown. Hopefully he can take that step forward again the next day,” added the former dual-champion jockey.

Lord Windermere has disappointed at Leopardstown more than once in the past, and has a single career victory at the track, his first victory over fences during the Christmas of 2012. He is set to clash again with old rival On His Own this Sunday, the pair having fought out a memorable a Gold Cup finish at Cheltenham.

On His Own currently disputes favouritism with his Willie Mullins trained stable-companion Boston Bob, and Ruby Walsh faces a difficult choice from the pair as he attempts to win a second Hennessy and a first since Quel Esprit in 2012.

Russell's other Grade 1 options on Sunday are likely to include the Liz Doyle-trained Le Vent D'Antan in the €85,000 Flogas Novice Chase. The partnership were impressive winners at Leopardstown over Christmas when Le Vent D'Antan beat Balbir Du Mathin by eight lengths.

Cross-channel presence

The likely complexion of the four top-flight races will take better shape after today’s five-day forfeit stage, with Leopardstown officials hopeful of a significant cross-channel presence in Sunday’s events.

Neptune Collonges' 2009 Hennessy is the sole overseas success at the meeting in recent years and Leopardstown's manager Pat Keogh, said: "They're talking about Shutthefrontdoor coming over and Paul Nicholls has a couple still left in the Hennessy (Rocky Creek and Unioniste.) I think he would like to run one as well. "

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column

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