Absentees raise Esprit
Mullins star heads Hennessy after withdrawals
WEATHER may not play havoc with Ireland's big racing this weekend at Leopardstown like it has across the water, but the Hennessy Gold Cup has suffered from a severe dose of bad luck.
Lexus Chase winner Synchronised, JNWine.com Champion Chase victor Quito De La Roque and the unexposed RSA Chase runner-up Jessies Dream are all absentees.
Quel Esprit catapulted himself into the Gold Cup reckoning in some people's eyes following a facile Thurles success last time out, while others, including yours truly, await more proof that he is capable of putting it up to the likes of Long Run and Kauto Star.
The fact that the Hennessy has now been hit with some major absentees is not ideal for those looking to get a guide as to whether Quel Esprit could leave his mark in the blue riband event of the Cheltenham Festival, and it's arguable that he would have to win in a similar fashion on Sunday as to that of his previous two wins against lesser rivals before making fans of Long Run and Kauto Star take note.
Sunday's Hennessy also features the somewhat forgotten Punchestown Gold Cup winner Follow The Plan, who probably wants nicer ground, and he doesn't hold a Gold Cup entry, unlike Roberto Goldback who fell at the last when upsides him in that aforementioned Kildare contest.
Vibes are good regarding RSA Chase winner Bostons Angel, who is yet to fire this season, but cheek pieces will be applied by Jessica Harrington for Sunday's three-miler and the fact her horses are back in good form has to be positive.
Only two winners of the Irish Hennessy have gone on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and, in truth, it's hard to see this season providing a third dual winner. At the moment, Quel Esprit is the shortest priced to do so at over 50/1.
Sunday's card is one of the biggest on the Irish racing calendar with a total of four Grade Ones, three of which will go a long way to defining the top novices in Ireland.
The winner of the opening Grade One Spring Juvenile Hurdle is likely to be the best of the four-year-olds on this side of the Irish Sea, while the Deloitte Novice Hurdle winner could well end the weekend as our top Supreme Novice Hurdle or Neptune Investments Novice Hurdle contender.
Over fences, the Dr PJ Moriarty Chase, won last year by Bostons Angel, and previously by Cooldine and Florida Pearl who all went on to win the RSA Chase, sees the so far unbeaten-over-fences Last Instalment further stake his claim for that race at the Festival.
A total of 14 of the horses in the opening Spring Juvenile Hurdle hold entries for the Cheltenham Festival with some double entered in both the Triumph Hurdle and the Supreme Novices.
Only Burn And Turn is not currently entered for Cheltenham from the Deloitte field, although she is an intended runner against Quevega in the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle if things go well on Sunday.
All of the Dr PJ Moriarty runners have the option of going to Cheltenham while in the Hennessy, all bar Follow The Plan and Treacle are Cheltenham bound.
Naas tomorrow will stage the comeback of another RSA Chase possibility, and arguably the best novice we have seen so far this season.
Bog Warrior will bid to get his season back on track tomorrow as he has his first run since taking a crashing blow to his head when falling at Leopardstown on St Stephens' Day. Tony Martin's first ever Grade One winner is set to line up in the BBA Ireland Opera Hat Novice Chase, which is the feature of a seven-race card at Naas tomorrow afternoon.