Road to Riches can justify favouritism in Irish Gold Cup

Gigginstown team to further strengthen their hand for Cheltenham blue riband

A decade after War Of Attrition famously sealed Michael O'Leary's Cheltenham Gold Cup love-affair, the Ryanair boss can further strengthen his hand for next month's blue-riband should Road To Riches fulfil most expectations at Leopardstown today.

Arguing that the sole programme in Ireland to feature four Grade One races shouldn't get viewed through such a Cheltenham festival prism is as futile as pretending its positioning on a Saturday has nothing to with the general public's sporting priorities this weekend.

But if the post-World Cup suspicion is that the Six-Nations is second-division in global terms, the Irish Gold Cup card has a proven top-quality pedigree of producing future Cheltenham heroes, even if it is 20 years since the last winner of the €150,000 centrepiece doubled-up in the race coveted most.

It's a reflection of the strength in depth of the Gigginstown Stud team that Road To Riches heads a team of five carrying the famous maroon colours into Saturday's race while the two horses bookmakers rate as shorter odds to give O'Leary a second Gold Cup – Don Poli and Don Cossack – are safely tucked up at home.

It's these top staying chasers with Gold Cup ambitions which are O'Leary's ultimate aim so it's probably no surprise the owner is aiming for a third win here in four years, a sequence that began with Sir Des Champs in 2013 when the race was known as the Hennessy.

Headline act

Sir Des Champs went on to finish runner-up at Cheltenham and he’s back as part of the Gigginstown quintet, as well as being one of a

Willie Mullins

trio pitched by the champion trainer in an attempt to secure a remarkable tenth win in the race.

Road To Riches though is the undoubted headline act.

Third in last season’s Gold Cup, the O’Leary team maintain only rain-softened ground prevented him following in War Of Attrition’s hoof-prints.

With a history of running well fresh, a first race in three months shouldn’t be an issue for the odds-on ante-post favourite.

"I think he's a stupid price. He's entitled to be favourite, but he's only 5lb clear on the ratings," his trainer Noel Meade warned.

“But there’s nothing we can do about the price and all we can do is get him there in good shape, which we think he is.”

Prices are a reflection of public expectation and many reckon Road To Riches, who rose rapidly through the ranks last season, could be an even more potent performer now.

He was certainly an automatic pick for Gigginstown's jockey Bryan Cooper and if there's a future Cheltenham Gold Cup winner among these it is most likely to be the favourite.

The Deloitte Novice Hurdle has a luminous CV and having won the last three renewals there’s a symmetry in Willie Mullins saddling three of the five runners now.

It is being billed as a showdown between Bellshill and Tombstone but it could be costly to ignore the claims of the Mullins – and Gigginstown – second-string, Petit Mouchoir.

Three parts

The former point to point winner was just three parts of a length off Tombstone at Christmas when ridden by the Frenchman,

Jacques Ricou

, and should relish this extra quarter mile.

Mullins also has three of the six runners in the Flogas Novice Chase including Outlander who, with the outstanding No More Heroes going straight to the festival, heads the Gigginstown bid.

Most focus though will be on Pont Alexandre who returned from a 1,000 day absence to win his chasing debut and there appeared to be more than a hint of the dreaded 'bounce' factor when he was subsequently beaten at Naas by Roi Des Francs.

Cheltenham's Triumph Hurdle picture is a rare example of a non-Mullins trained hotpot as favourite and Ivanovich Gorbatov can enhance the good impression he made on his Christmas jumping debut.

The JP McManus owned runner brought some undoubted flat quality to that race and looked to be well on top of Let’s Dance at the finish.