Our Duke returns to action in first Grade One of season at Down Royal
Michael O’Leary chasing five-in-a-row in steeplechase feature with four of eight runners
It’s a shifting of the seasons weekend in Ireland with the 2017 flat campaign finishing at Naas on Sunday 24 hours after Down Royal has hosted the new winter term’s first Grade One.
Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team is pursuing a fifth win in a row in the €140,000 JNwine Champion Chase and the Ryanair boss has half of the eight runners.
His great rival JP McManus has both More Of That and Carlingford Lough but it is Our Duke who will be undisputedly centre-stage as the Irish National winner begins a programme that could end in Cheltenham Gold Cup glory this March.
The appearance of the 2015 Blue Riband hero Coneygree and Cue Card at Wetherby less than an hour after the Down Royal highlight further highlights the burgeoning jumps season although it is Our Duke’s performance that could hold more long-term significance.
An impressive win would see him pressure his stable companion Sizing John at the top of the Gold Cup betting.
All bar More Of That of this opposition have had a run already this term and considering Ruby Walsh has been booked for Sub Lieutenant’s return to three miles there could be betting value in siding with him.
Walsh won the race for Henry De Bromhead on Valseur Lido a year ago and Sub Lieutenant may emerge as O’Leary’s main hope with Road To Respect still showing a worrisome tendency of jumping to his left.
Colin Keane will be officially crowned champion jockey for the first time at Naas and his best final day chance could be on the Gowran winner Inscribe.
He is on the topweight Song Of Namibia for the €100,000 Naas November Handicap while it may fall to his title rival Pat Smullen to bring the curtain down in the Listed Finale Stakes.
The €2 million purchase Tocco d’Amore impressively won her only start to date here in April and the three year old could prove a class apart now she returns to action on this soft ground.