O’Leary: Road To Respect’s Gold Cup chance hinges on the ground
Road To Respect’s chances of winning the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup next Friday will be greatly reduced if the ground comes up soft, according to Gigginstown House Stud boss Eddie O’Leary.
Noel Meade’s star was a good winner of the Leopardstown Christmas Chase before connections opted to sidestep the Irish Gold Cup because of heavy ground and on Tuesday he was a best-priced 10-1 for jump racing's ultimate prize.
But significant rain is forecast for Cheltenham for the remainder of this week and if the seven-year-old is to provide his owners – previously successful with War Of Attrition  and Don Cossack  – with their third win in the race and Noel Meade his first, conditions would need to improve, according to O'Leary.
Outlining similar concerns about the going for Balko Des Flos in the Ryanair Chase, O'Leary said: “Road To Respect is in very good form and has improved all season, but with every drop of rain that falls, it'll hurt his chances."
He added: “Balko Des Flos is our main runner in the Ryanair Chase but this rain is not going to help him, so I would doubt that we'll be able to end our hoodoo in the race if the ground comes up soft. I really hope the ground isn't bad, for everyone's sake.”
Novice chasers: Dounikos forgotten
Dounikos, who has the option of the National Hunt Chase over four miles, now looks to be RSA Chase-bound, leaving the door open for impressive Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase winner Shattered Love to step back in trip in the JLT Novices' Chase.
Speaking about the pair, O’Leary said: “It's a long week and they all have to get there, but the plan at the moment is to run Dounikos in the RSA and then Shattered Love will go for the JLT.
“Dounikos has been forgotten about by everyone bar us. He's a grand horse who gets a trip. He’ll love the ground and comes here off the back of a very good run behind Monalee, so hopefully he has a chance.
“As for Shattered Love, she's won over as short as two miles, albeit she appreciates further, and you'd really want to be able to stay three miles to figure in a JLT Novices' Chase, which she does.”
Plans are also in place for Mossback, second behind Monbeg Notorious in a Grade 2 over fences at Navan last month, to run in the National Hunt Chase, where Lisa O’Neill, successful for the same connections last year aboard Tiger Roll, will ride.
He said: “We'll run him in the four-miler and Lisa will ride, all being well. He looks to be the right type for a race like that.”
Rare Champion Bumper runner
Gigginstown have not been represented in the Champion Bumper since General Principle finished down the field in 2015 but will be bidding to win the race for the first time with the unbeaten Gordon Elliott-trained Felix Desjy, a best-priced 16-1 shot.
O’Leary added: “We had two choices with Felix Desjy – continue to compete in Ireland and hopefully win another bumper or take our chances at Cheltenham, and we've gone for the latter.
“Hopefully, he should be mentally ready for a race like the Champion Bumper and we'll see how he figures. Davy Russell will probably ride him.”
O’Connor keeps Gold Cup ride on Edwulf
Eleven-time champion point-to-point rider Derek O’Connor has been provided with an opportunity to show the world he is an amateur in name only, as Frank Berry, racing manager to JP McManus, confirmed he will keep the ride on Edwulf in the Gold Cup.
O’Connor, who has more than 1,100 point-to-point winners to his name, was brilliant aboard Joseph O’Brien’s Edwulf in the Unibet Irish Gold Cup last month, delivering his challenge late to record a highly emotional win.
With Barry Geraghty set to ride Anibale Fly or last season’s runner-up Minella Rocco, O’Connor will be entrusted to guide home the general 25-1 chance in front.
Berry said: “Barry will ride Anibale Fly or Minella Rocco and Mark Walsh will ride whoever Barry doesn’t. Derek rides Edwulf.”
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