Harrington has Our Duke primed for big comeback in Irish Gold Cup
Our Duke had connections predicting a lordly performance at Leopardstown next month after the Irish Grand National winner headlined the entries for the Unibet Irish Gold Cup, highlight of the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival.
Entries for the two-day festival were unveiled on Tuesday and featured a plethora of Ireland's most exciting horses, including Sky Bet Supreme Novices' market leader Getabird, Ballymore Novices' Hurdle favourite Samcro and Racing Post Arkle favourite Footpad.
However, just eight British-trained horses featured among the entries, with the most exciting – Buveur D'Air, who could face Faugheen in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle on February 3 – looking unlikely to run.
Reigning Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup champion Sizing John will not run in the Irish Gold Cup on Sunday, February 4, having won the race last year en route to Cheltenham glory, but his trainer Jessica Harrington has leading claims with Our Duke, who is a best-priced 7-2.
Our Duke has not been seen since finishing last on his seasonal debut at Down Royal's Champion Chase in November, after which he received treatment for kissing spines.
Harrington said: "He's run well fresh in the past and if we can have him in the same sort of form he was in when he won the Irish National then he should run a big race in the Irish Gold Cup.
"We're bringing Our Duke to Fairyhouse to school [after racing on Wednesday]. He schooled around Punchestown recently and seems in good form."
Robbie Power, who as regular rider of Our Duke and Sizing John, will face a tough choice should both reach Cheltenham, is pleased with his Irish Gold Cup mount.
"I knew at Down Royal something was amiss because he never travelled and he was treated for kissing spines, which is the equivalent of a human having a slipped disc," Power told his BoyleSports blog. "But he’s jumping and moving super at the moment, he’s in great form and I couldn’t be happier."
Of last year's winner, Harrington added: "We're happy with Sizing John and the plan is to go straight to Cheltenham to try to win the Gold Cup again."
Our Duke is set to face the Willie Mullins duo Killultagh Vic and Djakadam, both likely Irish Gold Cup runners, while Total Recall could also run. Road To Respect and Coney Island are also among 22 entries.
Harrington confirmed Supasundae, one of four horses she exercised at Leopardstown yesterday, will drop in trip in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle, for which the trainer has also entered Jezki and Forge Meadow.
Winner of the Coral Cup last season, Supasundae made Apple's Jade fight for victory in the Grade 1 Squared Financial Hurdle at Leopardstown last month, and Harrington said: "We're dropping Supasundae to two miles to sharpen him up before he heads for the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham. He appreciates goodish ground.
"I'm not sure about Jezki, who will be aimed at Aintree and Punchestown, while Forge Meadow will take her chance in the Irish Champion, although she will have little chance on ratings, but Christmas showed us that strange things can happen in big races."
Buveur D'Air and Faugheen, Champion Hurdle winners past and present, are in the Irish Champion Hurdle too, although Nicky Henderson said Buveur D'Air had the entry only as "a fallback".
Racing Post Arkle Chase favourite Footpad is among ten entries for the Grade 1 Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase.
Leading JCB Triumph Hurdle contender Espoir D’Allen is in the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle, while Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle favourite Getabird is in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle.
Leopardstown CEO Pat Keogh said: "The Dublin Racing Festival is a major initiative for Irish racing and it's great that it has attracted such quality in depth. I'd like to thank all the owners and trainers for their support."
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