Is anything capable of getting Thistlecrack trembling?
Stan James Irish Gold Cup (Grade 1) | 3m | 5yo+ | ATR/RTE2
The Irish Gold Cup has lost its reputation as a key trial and it will take something special to get Thistlecrack trembling in Dorset.
Imperial Call was the last horse to win this race and follow up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. That was in 1996. What's more, Sir Des Champs was the only winner in the last decade to reach the frame.
However, Gordon Elliott, who already has a genuine Gold Cup contender in the shape of Lexus winner Outlander, runs both the rejuvenated Don Poli and Empire Of Dirt, hoping they might be capable of filling the boots of the retired Don Cossack at Cheltenham.
If you had been told that Don Poli would be ante-post favourite for the Irish Gold Cup in the weeks leading up to the race, you would have probably laughed. However, after he chased home Outlander in the Lexus, he is a live candidate and Elliott feels he is the one to beat.
“I thought David [Mullins] got a great tune out of Don Poli in the Lexus Chase at Christmas and would he need to improve much from that to be the one they all have to beat in this?" said Elliott. "I don't think he would. If David can get another good tune out of him I think he's the one they have to beat."
Empire Of Dirt is arriving via a very different route. He has landed a hat-trick of valuable handicaps – the Leopardstown Chase, the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate and the Troytown Chase – and has certainly earned his shot on the big stage.
Elliott said: “Empire Of Dirt is obviously taking a big step out of handicap company but he's been very impressive in his last three wins and I couldn't have been happier with how he won the Troytown. He's not ground dependent and he will handle the going if it's that bit better."
Sizing out to answer stamina queries
Sizing John, so often in the shadows of Douvan, is now trying to make a new career for himself as a staying chaser.
The ex-Henry De Bromhead-trained seven-year-old certainly saw out the 2m4f well in the Kinloch Brae at Thurles when sprinting clear of Sub Lieutenant in the closing stages, but this extra half-mile will stretch him even further and Jessica Harrington is well aware that she is stepping into the unknown with him.
Harrington said: "We are stepping into the unknown a little bit as it's his first time over three miles and it's going to be a difficult ask for him tackling this trip for the first time in such a hot race.
"However, he relaxes very well during his races and one would have to have been pleased with how he finished off the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles last time. Here's hoping he can deliver our first Irish Gold Cup – it would be lovely."
Lough looking for hat-trick
Carlingford Lough bids to win this race for the third time after victories the last two years and nobody will be shocked if he completes the hat-trick after Barry Geraghty chose him over Minella Rocco and More Of That.
"It was a difficult decision," explained Geraghty. "I just felt that Carlingford Lough ran a lovely race over hurdles at Navan last month and it would be great for John Kiely if he could record three successive Irish Gold Cups with him.
"He's an 11-year-old now but there's no shrewder man than John in the game and you can be sure he will have him fit and ready. Let's hope I'm on the right one."
Frank Berry, JP McManus' racing manager, added: "Carlingford Lough is in good order. John [Kiely] is very happy with him. He has won the race twice before, he likes Leopardstown and he is the highest-rated horse in the race so he ticks a lot of boxes.
"I was a little bit surprised that Barry [Geraghty] went for Carlingford Lough as I thought he might go for the young pretender, but I suppose the older horse is tried and tested."
Jonjo O'Neill is also represented by More Of That who showed more life in the Lexus last time.
"He didn't run too badly last time in the Lexus and has been in good form since. He seems to be coming back to himself," Berry said.
The Noel Meade-trained Road To Riches, who has cheekpieces applied for the first time, and Grade 1-winning novice Zabana make up the field.