Our Duke to test Gold Cup credentials with Gowran run

Jessica Harrington to enter star novice in Saturday’s Red Mills Chase

With just over four weeks to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Our Duke looks set to put his 'Blue Riband' credentials to the test at Gowran this Saturday.

Jessica Harrington has confirmed her Gold Cup title-holder Sizing John will have a racecourse gallop en route to defending his Cheltenham crown next month.

However, her other star chaser, Our Duke, is likely to be competitively tested in the Grade Two Red Mills Chase this weekend. That race is also a possible target for the star novice, Presenting Percy, currently favourite for the RSA at the festival.

The two-and-a-half mile contest will be the shortest trip Our Duke has tackled since his chasing debut at Navan 15 months ago.


Since then he has won at Grade One level and catapulted himself to stardom by routing his opposition in last season’s Irish Grand National.

In contrast the current campaign has been frustrating, with a back problem diagnosed after a hugely disappointing return to action at Down Royal in November.

Our Duke was better on his recent comeback in Leopardstown’s Irish Gold Cup but after a bad mistake at the second last ultimately had to settle for fourth behind Edwulf. With that run under his belt, connections hope he can progress again.

"I'm going to make an entry for Our Duke in the Red Mills," said Harrington ahead of Tuesday's forfeit stage. "He's in great order since Leopardstown and he seemed to jump well there so I'm delighted with him."

Our Duke is a 12-1 shot in Gold Cup betting lists while his stable companion Sizing John is generally 7-1 to become the first horse since Best Mate to retain steeplechasing’s most coveted prize.

Ireland’s reigning ‘Horse of the Year’ was a hugely disappointing seventh behind Road To Respect at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Harrington's reaction was to blame the performance on Sizing John's quick reappearance 18 days after beating Djakadam in the John Durkan at Punchestown.

Sizing John ran twice after Christmas last season en route to his landmark Cheltenham victory but will go straight to the festival this time with Harrington indicating he is giving her positive signals once again.

“I’m very happy with him and he will a racecourse gallop somewhere. I don’t know where – it will depend on ground and the racecourses,” she said.

Harrington is concentrating on preparations for her own two Gold Cup contenders but conceded she was impressed with Native River's weekend victory at Newbury.

“Native River looked very good on Saturday. There have been some other good performances too. But I’m just hoping our horses come back to where they were,” she said.

Robbie Power has ridden Sizing John in all seven of his starts since moving to Harrington and has also been on board Our Duke for all nine of his start since leaving bumpers.

The jockey could be faced with a Gold Cup dilemma, with a potential big-race ‘spare’ potentially available for another rider. Harrington admitted: “It’s very much in my thoughts but I don’t know anything yet.”

Our Duke's Grade One success in Christmas 2016 came at the expense of Coney Island who could put his own Gold Cup credentials to the test in this Saturday's Betfair Ascot Chase.

The Eddie Harty trained star is one of seven left in the Grade One Chase and is a 3-1 shot in some lists behind the early favourites Top Notch and Waiting Patiently.

Native River's veteran stable companion Cue Card is likely to try and secure a third win in the race despite Colin Tizzard's star not running since a distant runner up to Bristol De Mai at Haydock in November.

Tizzard’s son and assistant, Joe, reported: “He has had a nice break and schooled beautifully on Wednesday morning. He seems in the best form he has been all season. He really is in good nick.

“We haven’t written him off by any stretch of the imagination so we are looking forward to running him. I don’t think there was anything wrong with the Haydock run. On different days different horses win those top-class races.

“Bristol De Mai was perhaps unbeatable on that day and it is a bit different when you elsewhere. I still think he has got another big day in him.

“It isn’t an easy race on Saturday compared to last year. It looks a decent race but he is still a very good horse on his day.”

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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