Carlingford Lough camp target historic hat-trick
Carlingford Lough will bid for a hat-trick of Irish Gold Cup victories at Leopardstown on Sunday - and one of his chief stumbling blocks will also be sporting the famous green and gold silks of JP McManus, with Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup dark horse Minella Rocco set to line up.
Frank Berry, McManus's racing manager, said on Tuesday after ten had stood their ground for the Stan James-backed race: "Carlingford Lough will run and so will Minella Rocco.
"We also have More Of That in the race, but he's also in the Denman Chase at Newbury on Saturday and we'll leave a decision about him until Thursday."
Carlingford Lough's only run since winning the Punchestown Gold Cup last spring came over hurdles last month, when he was fourth behind Jezki, while Minella Rocco was a final-fence faller when in second and not done with in a Listed race at Aintree won by the ill-fated Many Clouds on his most recent start in December.
The Jonjo O'Neill-trained seven-year-old, winner of the National Hunt Chase at last year's Cheltenham Festival, will bid to become the first British-trained winner of the race since Neptune Collonges in 2009.
Don Poli, who returned to form when second in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting, is 5-2 favourite with the sponsor, with stablemate Empire Of Dirt and Minella Rocco on 4-1. Carlingford Lough comes next on 5-1.
As well as with the Gordon Elliott pair Don Poli and Empire Of Dirt, Gigginstown House Stud also plan to be represented by Noel Meade-trained Road To Riches.
Elliott said: "Don Poli's run in the Lexus was very encouraging. He's in good form and deserves his chance.
"Empire Of Dirt is coming out of handicap company having done very well in that division. He's had a break with Sunday's race in mind and we're going to find out how he fits in at Grade 1 level."
Robbie Power, absent with a back injury since January 26, will ride out on Wednesday and expects to be back in time for Leopardstown, when his rides will include Sizing John in the Irish Gold Cup.
He said on Tuesday: "I've been swimming for the past week and had a few injections in my back yesterday. I'm feeling a lot better and will be riding out in the morning, with a view to resuming at Naas on Saturday."
Willie Mullins, with seven victories, Henry de Bromhead (four) and Elliott (three) have mopped up 14 of the 16 Grade 1s run in Ireland this season and that trio of trainers are responsible for half of the 44 entries for Sunday's four top-level events.
Mullins has seven of the 12 acceptors for the Deloitte Novice Hurdle, with Elliott responsible for three. The only other trainers with possible runners are Meade (Gunnery Sergeant) and de Bromhead (Peace News).
"We haven't finalised plans for the Deloitte but the two we have in the Flogas Novice Chase, Bellshill and Bleu Et Rouge, are intended runners, while we're looking at running Bapume and Meri Devie in the Grade 1 juvenile hurdle," said Mullins.
The ground at Leopardstown on Tuesday was soft, and there is a mainly dry forecast for the rest of the week.