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First Lieutenant can claim second Grade 1 Chase at Punchestown

Cheltenham Gold Cup second and third Sir Des Champs and Long Run head up the Punchestown Gold Cup betting after admirable performances behind Bob’s Worth at the festival, but the pair could be eclipsed in Kildare by a horse who didn’t get to take part in the Prestbury Park blue riband, Mouse Morris’ First Lieutenant.

First Lieutenant was denied the chance to run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup after Gigginstown Stud – who own both the eight-year-old and fellow Gold Cup hope Sir Des Champs – decided to send him to the Ryanair Chase instead in an attempt to scoop more prizes. As may have been feared he was found to lack the necessary speed over the Ryanair’s shorter 2m4f trip, going down by nine lengths  to Cue Card.

However before that outing he’d posted two efforts that entitle him to be right in the mix at Punchestown. Firstly he finished eight-and-a-half lengths behind Bobs Worth in the Hennessey Gold Cup a Newbury, before being headed in the final strides of Leopardstown’s Lexus Chase with Sir Des Champs and Flemenstar behind him.

On the latter effort it was an unkindness not to let him take his chance in the premier staying chasers event at Cheltenham. However, unbowed by Ryanair demotion, he followed up by winning the Grade 1 Aintree Bowl, with Gold Cup hope Silvianco Conti back in third.

That race has proved a an excellent pre-Punchestown Gold Cup staging post with the four Aintree winners attempting to follow up here in the last decade garnering two wins and second between them.

It may seem that Mouse Morris’ chaser – set to make his seventh start of the season tomorrow – will be up against fresher rivals in Sir Des Champs and Long Run, neither of whom have competed more than four times this term, but First Lieutenant enjoyed a substantial rest between boxing day and March and should have plenty more left in the tank with which to stake his claim as the top stayer on the Gigginstown books.