Our Duke and Coney Island put Gold Cup credentials on the line

Coney Island’s Ascot clash with Top Notch, Waiting Patiently and Cue Card an ideal test

Our Duke:  an authoritative defeat of the leading novice Presenting Percy will see current 16-1 odds for steeplechasing’s ‘Blue Riband’ tumble significantly. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Our Duke: an authoritative defeat of the leading novice Presenting Percy will see current 16-1 odds for steeplechasing’s ‘Blue Riband’ tumble significantly. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Old rivals Our Duke and Coney Island get opportunities to propel themselves towards the top of an open Cheltenham Gold Cup betting market on Saturday.

Our Duke doesn’t have Douvan to contend with in Gowran’s Red Mills Chase but an authoritative defeat of the leading novice Presenting Percy will see current 16-1 odds for steeplechasing’s ‘Blue Riband’ tumble significantly.

Just over 90 minutes later Coney Island – the horse Our Duke beat to win his sole Grade One prize to date in Christmas of 2016 – could have his own 10-1 Gold Cup odds slashed if successful at Ascot.

With Might Bite an unconvincing Gold Cup market leader for some, and uncertainty over the current title-holder Sizing John, a Coney Island victory in the Betfair Ascot Chase could be a cue for many to row in with JP McManus’s rising young star next month.

Coney Island’s clash with Top Notch, Waiting Patiently and the veteran Cue Card certainly looks an ideal test for a youngster facing just his fifth start over fences.

The two miles-five furlong trip against other opposition either on the up or on the slide, or who might fall just below true top-flight standard, is a worthy examination without being a gruelling test such as the Irish Gold Cup might have been earlier this month.

Certainly if Coney Island is found wanting on Saturday then even Ryanair ambitions next month, never mind the Gold Cup, will look speculative.

“He’s in good heart, travelled over on Wednesday, but I’d prefer it if it was better ground. We just have to take what we’re given,” said his trainer Eddie Harty on Friday.

The Ryanair option is unsurprisingly open considering his relative inexperience over fences and how the McManus team have to factor into their festival calculations the remarkable Edwulf having won that Irish Gold Cup.

However on the back of an impressive return to action over the course and distance before Christmas, a Grade One credit already in the 2016 Drinmore, not to mention his subsequent form link to Our Duke, a ‘Blue Riband’ tilt could prove irresistible should Coney Island win well at Ascot.

The Gold Cup’s wide-open look has already encouraged Willie Mullins to throw Total Recall’s hat into the ring alongside Killultagh Vic despite neither boasting a classic profile for the race.

Sixth run

By the end of the afternoon action though Jessica Harrington will hope she’s the one holding a pair of convincing Gold Cup cards.

Sizing John will defend his crown on the back of a racecourse gallop. But just 13 days after his return to action in the Irish Gold Cup, Our Duke gets a final pre-festival test in Gowran’s Grade Two feature.

Robbie Power’s Sizing John links might make any Cheltenham pick academic but he teams up once again with last season’s Irish National hero who earned mixed reviews for his Leopardstown effort.

A mistake at the second last ruined his chance of winning but Power expressed satisfaction with the fourth to Edwulf and predicts significant improvement for the run.

“If he hadn’t made that mistake he would definitely have been placed and what people forget, because he’s already won an Irish National, is that was still only his sixth run over fences,” the jockey said.  

That prediction is put to the test against the RSA favourite Presenting Percy who maintains his unconventional run-in to Cheltenham.

Having won a long distance handicap chase in December, Presenting Percy followed up in the Galmoy Hurdle last month and now takes on senior opposition that also includes last year’s winner Ballycasey and another Grade One winner in Valseur Lido.

The two and a half mile trip is short of both Our Duke and Presenting Percy’s best although ground conditions will still test stamina. Our Duke comes out a couple of pounds ahead on official ratings. If he puts more than that between himself and his high-class rival then it will look to be next stop – Gold Cup.

Danny Mullins returned from injury on Wednesday and has four Gowran rides including Up For Review for his uncle Willie in an opening Beginners Chase. The Kim Muir possible Mall Dini has a tenth go at winning over fences in this.

Mullins is also on Abbyssial for his first start in almost three years in the Grade Three Trial Hurdle.

This sees Mick Jazz having to concede weight all-round and the task of giving 18lbs to Abbyssial’s versatile stable companion Lagostovegas may be too difficult.

The talented mare followed up a gutsy hurdles success at Listowel last autumn with a third in the English Cesarewtich and was then runner-up to the €2 million filly Tocco D’amore in a Listed race in November.

Lagostovegas is 25-1 for the OLBG Hurdle at Cheltenham and those odds could look generous after her Gowran test.

The two-times French flat winner Saldier is already 25-1 for the Triumph Hurdle ahead of his jumping debut in the juvenile maiden.  

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