Sunday's multiple-Grade One Hennessy Gold Cup fixture has an enviable record of identifying future talent but it's the veteran Tidal Bay that could bring some tried-and-trusted quality to Leopardtown's €160,000 centrepiece.
The enigmatic 13-year-old star is in contention to return to the course and distance of his epic 2012 Lexus success although it appears ground conditions will be critical to whether or not Tidal Bay travels for the Hennessy and a clash with some of Ireland’s top chasers.
His trainer Paul Nicholls was a Hennessy winner in 2009 with Neptune Collonges and a year previously Tidal Bay's jockey Daryl Jacob scored on board The Listener.
Since then Willie Mullins has resumed his dominance of the race and will pursue a 10th Hennessy victory with the French import Rubi Ball on Sunday, a strike-rate for every other trainer to reckon with.
That isn’t stopping Nicholls from pondering another Grade One raid on the Dublin track however and he reported: “If it keeps on raining, the ground is testing, and we’re happy with him, Tidal Bay could go for the Hennessy. That’s a definite possible but no decision has been made yet.”
First Lieutenant, runner-up to Tidal Bay in that memorable Leuxs finish last season, currently tops the Hennessy betting on 5-2 ahead of tomorrow's critical five-day declaration stage. Tidal Bay, a valiant third under topweight in the Welsh National on his last start, is a 9-2 shot in some lists.
The Hennessy is one of four Grade One races that often play a vital role in establishing the Irish pecking order ahead of the Cheltenham festival just five weeks later. The current Arkle Trophy favourite Champagne Fever is likely to be aimed at the Dr PJ Moriarty Novice Chase this weekend according to owner Rich Ricci who yesterday said of the step up in trip such a move means: "He did it last year in the Deloitte (Novice Hurdle) and then went back to two miles at Cheltenham."
One horse, Champagne Fever, won’t have to deal with on Sunday is Morning Assembly, runner-up to Carlingford Lough in the Topaz over Christmas, who will now go straight to the RSA at the festival.
"It has been a plan all the way through to aim for Cheltenham. Everything has gone well so far and I think we'll stick to the plan," trainer Pat Fahy said yesterday. "He's got his experience and it's just a case of sticking to the routine now. We'll keep him nice and fresh and he won't be doing anything major."
Fahy added: “Cheltenham isn’t far away at all now. In another couple of weeks it will seem very close so we’ll just try and keep him sound and healthy. The RSA is his main target. We gave him an entry in the four miler but that was just in case something cropped up.”
Ruby Walsh is likely to be required for one of Willie Mullins's novices at Cheltenham but Fahy still isn't ruling him out of continuing his association with Morning Assembly over fences. "We'll hold out as much as we can for Ruby. We've managed to get him up to now and people didn't think we'd be able to," he said. "If we can't get Ruby, there's Davy Russell and Davy Condon coming back. I don't think we'll be short of options."
Philip Fenton faces into a potentially significant week with The Tullow Tank topping the contenders for the Deloitte Novice Hurdle and Last Instalment still in contention to continue his comeback in the Hennessy. The former Moriarty winner made an encouraging comeback last month at Thurles when third in the Kinloch Brae.
Rich Ricci indicated Vautour could take on The Tullow Tank in the Deloitte: “It’s possible he could run on Sunday where I’d like to see him go. I think he could use another run.”
Sunday’s fourth Grade One is the Gala Spring Juvenile Hurdle, a pre-festival option for the current 8-1 Triumph Hurdle joint-favourite Ivan Grozny.