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Will the Irish Hennessy provide the Last Instalment of Gold Cup clues?

Sunday’s Grade 1 Irish Hennessy at Leopardstown sees old rivals First Lieutenant and Last Instalment bid to enhance their Cheltenham Festival claims in a fascinating contest.

The race was won last year by the Gigginstown – owned Sir Des Champs who went on to finish runner-up to Bobs Worth in the Gold Cup.

Injury has ruled Willie Mullins’ star chaser out of this year’s contest, and Mouse Morris’ First Lieutenant has now taken over the mantle as Ireland’s number one hope of landing chasing’s blue riband event.

He is currently the 2/1 favourite with Coral to win on Sunday and 8/1 for the big one in March.

The nine-year-old is owned by Gigginstown and has proved himself at the top level having finished runner-up to Cue Card in last year’s Ryanair before winning at Aintree.

He also ran a cracker last time out when chasing home Bobs Worth in the Grade 1 Lexus Chase over course and distance, and that sets a high standard for his rivals to aim at.

However he is unlikely to get things all his own way with Paul Nicholls’ Tidal Bay in the line-up, and Gigginstown also have another runner in the shape of Last Instalment, who could prove to be the fly in the ointment and emerge as a Gold Cup contender.

Philip Fenton’s nine-year-old, who is 4/1 with Coral for Sunday’s race, looked an exciting prospect in 2011/12 when unbeaten in four runs over fences.

The last two of those successes came in Grade 1 Company (cap down company) and included a 6 length six-length win over First Lieutenant in the Fort Leney Novices’ Chase over course and distance.

Injury then ruled him out of for all of last season but he made a highly encouraging return to action last month when finishing a close up third to Texas Jack in the Grade 2 Kinloch Brae Chase over 2m 4f.

He only weakened late on that day to be beaten 1 3/4 lengths having held every chance at the last and showed enough to suggest he retains plenty of ability.

Although currently rated 17lb lower than First Lieutenant there is little doubt that the nine-year-old will come on significantly for that run, and he could well prove a live outsider for the Gold Cup if putting in a bold showing this weekend.

If he did win the race then his current odds of 33/1 with Coral for the big one would tumble, and his age is certainly a positive as four of the last 10 winners of the race have been aged nine.

He has also tasted success at Grade 1 level, something which every winner of the Gold Cup in the last decade had achieved.

As well as an entry in the Gold Cup he is also in the Ryanair and 20/1 with Coral for that 2m 5f contest.

However, if he does come through Sunday’s test with flying colours then connections will surely go for the former and if that proves to be the case he would make plenty of each-way appeal in what looks a wide open contest if you take out the defending champion and favourite, Bobs Worth.