O’Leary has a lot riding on Tombstone after spat with handicapper
Alpha Des Obeaux looks to have quality to land relatively ordinary RSA renewal
Bleu Et Rouge, with Barry Geraghty up, right, leads Tombstone, with Bryan Cooper up, over the last on their way to winning the Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown in February 2016. Photograph: Sportsfile/Corbis via Getty Images
Michael O’Leary’s Grade 1 focus is on Alpha Des Obeaux in Wednesday’s RSA although the Ryanair chief executive’s Cheltenham attention is likely to be just as resolutely trained on Tombstone’s attempt to win the Coral Cup.
On the back of his post-Brexit spat with the British Horseracing Authority’s handicapper over the Grand National weights, and a suggestion of a bias against Irish horses in cross-channel handicaps generally, O’Leary has a lot riding on the big Day Two handicap.
Handicaps famously don’t do it for the renowned businessman but there’s a lot of ego on the line over Tombstone – and not just O’Leary’s.
Having made no secret of their attitude to the BHA’s Phil Smith, O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team have nevertheless juggled Tombstone’s festival target on the basis of the BHA’s rating of a horse that beat no less than Jezki in his last start at Gowran.
That provoked an expectation Tombstone would be supplemented for the Champion Hurdle. However, the BHA’s relatively kind mark has resulted in a change of heart and the previously injury-prone star now goes down the handicap route.
As a Clongowes-educated, Trinity graduate billionaire, O’Leary cuts an unlikely anti-authority figure.
But successfully taking advantage of a perceived unlikely leniency by the BHA may allow him feel he’s stuck one to the BHA ‘Man’. Conversely, should Tombstone not fire, then Smith & Co might permit themselves an establishment chuckle at their vocal critic.
Prime contenderGordon Elliott
Nicky Henderson’s Consul de Thaix appeared to be a prime Coral Cup contender yet he lines up in the opening Grade 1 Neptune Novices Hurdle instead which looks a significant move for the JP McManus-owned runner.
The common denominator between the two races is the trip and after two runs at the minimum distance behind his stable companion Brain Power, it is the increased stamina requirement which could prove the significant factor for Consul de Thaix.
It does require a little faith to believe a horse can win the first race of his career in a Grade 1 but Consul de Thaix has only run five times in all and it’s intriguing that the McManus team have opted for the top-flight race with him rather than the handicap.
Acapella Bourgeois would be a hugely popular RSA winner for Sandra Hughes and Roger Loughran and his wide-margin victory in the Ten Up at Navan last time was hugely impressive. The worry is, however, that ground conditions here may have turned quicker than ideal for him.
There are also lingering suspicions surrounding the favourite, Might Bite, whose jumping will need to stand up a lot better than it has at times in the past.
Alpha Des Obeaux looks to have the quality to land a relatively ordinary RSA renewal but supporting him requires a leap of faith considering he burst a blood vessel on his previous start at Leopardstown and had to be pulled up.
It all makes for a desperately trappy contest but after winning at the course on New Year’s Day, the former top staying hurdler Whisper might prove the soluton under Davy Russell.
The former champion jockey has been snapped up by Joseph O’Brien for West Coast Time in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper although, as always, so much of the build-up to this Grade 1 will centre on Willie Mullins’s pursuit of a ninth win in the race.
The long-time favourite, Carter McKay, beat West Coast Time in a slowly run affair at Naas while Mullins’s other hope, Next Destination, impressed at Fairyhouse back on New Year’s Day.
Nothing went right for West Coast Time in that Naas race and a strong pace and better ground should be his favour. His dam, Refinement, found only Total Enjoyment too good in this race 13 years ago and with Russell doing the steering, West Coast Time looks a player.
Enda Bolger secured the last of his five Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase wins in the stewards’ room last year and has four chances to extend dominance this time.
Auvergnat is an exciting prospect for this discipline but the Co Limerick trainer has expressed reservations about his maturity for the task. No such quibbles surround Cantlow’s chance and looks the one to beat.
Brian O’Connor’s tips: 1.30 – Consul de Thaix. 2.10 – Whisper. 2.50 – Automated. 4.10 – Cantlow. 4.50 – Dolos. 5.30 – West Coast Time (Nap).
Nap and Double – West Coast Time & Consul de Thaix.