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Does Ireland have a genuine Gold Cup contender this year?

War Of Attrition was the last Irish-trained winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2006 and the Emerald Isle is struggling to find a credible contender. With Sir Des Champs out injured, the powerful Gigginstown House Stud are hoping that First Lieutenant can be their flag bearer this year.

The nine-year-old was considered a fair each-way bet a year ago but connections eventually decided to run him in the shorter Ryanair Chase where he was soundly beaten by Cue Card. He gained compensation with victory over an extended three miles in the Betfred Bowl at Aintree and has been trained for the Gold Cup this season.

The chestnut son of Presenting did not impress on his first two starts but put up a much-improved effort to finish second to Bobs Worth in the Lexus Chase in December. Although the winner took all the plaudits, First Lieutenant finished a lot closer to him than he had at Newbury in 2012.

Trainer Mouse Morris reports him to be in excellent shape ahead of Sunday’s Irish Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown. He is currently 8-1 third favourite for the Gold Cup and needs to win this weekend to justify those odds.

Last year’s RSA Chase winner Lord Windermere has been disappointing this season and a bigger threat on Sunday could come from Last Instalment. He also runs in the famous maroon and white colours and made a pleasing return from injury when third to Texas Jack at Thurles last month.

That race was over two and a half miles and the step up in trip ought to suit him more than the winner. The veteran Tidal Bay will be reunited with Ruby Walsh in the Hennessy and he should provide a fair guide as to the merits of the form.

It is difficult to see another Irish challenger emerging at this late stage. Rubi Ball’s participation in the Gold Cup is in doubt while Boston Bob ran disappointingly in the Cleeve Hurdle on his last start.