STARS ON THE RISE
Golden future on cards for Irish stayers
ONLY four weeks to go until Cheltenham Gold Cup day and as it stands, hopes of an Irish winner for the first time since War Of Attrition in 2006 look slim enough.
Quel Esprit is a 14/1 shot with five ahead of him in the betting, so it'll be interesting to see how he fares. But looking ahead 12 months, the future may be bright for our staying chasers.
Wednesday brought the devastating news that Last Instalment would miss the RSA Chase next month after sustaining an injury when winning at Leopardstown last weekend.
Fingers crossed the injury doesn't rule him out for more than the rest of this season and with a lengthy summer break, he'll be back jumping his rivals into submission by next Christmas or even sooner.
If he is, Last Instalment appears to be a real Cheltenham Gold Cup candidate. Unbeaten over fences, he has answered every call so far and is just one diamond of what is seemingly an embarrassment of riches for the Gigginstown House team.
As well as Last Instalment, Bog Warrior, who is also owned by Michael O'Leary, is another who could develop into a Gold Cup horse.
Tony Martin's first ever Grade One winner got his season back on track at Naas last Saturday and although a trip to Cheltenham this season remains up in the air, next year's journey across will be very exciting if he stays in one piece.
Bog Warrior has never been beaten when finishing, giving him a 100pc record from the five races he has completed. None of those races have been beyond 2m4f, and two of his three chase wins have been over 2m, but the most emphatic came in the Grade One Drinmore over 2m4f.
His class seems to be so evident that neither the trip nor the ground really have a big bearing on him, so do not rule him out of top honours over a staying trip next year.
Still only a seven-year-old First Lieutenant is another horse who may be sneaking under the radar a bit for next month's Festival, and potentially as a long-term Gold Cup horse.
Last season's Neptune Investments Novice Hurdle winner has had an up-and-down time of things ever since, but he is trained by the man who guided War Of Attrition to so much success.
Mouse Morris is a master at getting horses to peak at the Cheltenham Festival and so many of his runners don't run between the Leopardstown Christmas meeting at Cheltenham.
First Lieutenant had to settle for second behind the aforementioned Last Instalment at Christmas, but is a winner at the Festival and isn't one to be ruled out of the equation, despite having to clearly improve to challenge the likes of Grand Crus. He also carries the Gigginstown maroon and white.
Indeed, albeit a long shot, Gigginstown may have yet another Gold Cup prospect in the closet as the 2010 RSA Chase winner Weapon's Amnesty is still due back next season and he too looked capable of bigger and better things when leaving the novice ranks.
Injury has denied us of anything else since that Cheltenham win, and maybe he'll never come back with the same talent, but if he did ...
Apart from the Gigginstown army of potential leading three-mile chasers next season, the next most exciting novice this term has undoubtedly been Flemenstar.
Aside from becoming famous for his trainer Peter Casey's after-race comments when he landed the Grade One Irish Arkle at Leopardstown last month, Flemenstar has only been overturned by Bog Warrior over fences thus far this season and will head now for the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse rather than go across to Cheltenham this season.
Casey has made no secret of the fact that he feels Flemenstar is a Gold Cup horse, and it's hard to argue at the moment, as should he have been sent to Cheltenham, he'd have surely given Grand Crus plenty to think about in the RSA Chase.
Add in another year of experience under the belt of Quel Esprit and possibly the return of Grade One winner Jessies Dream and the Gold Cup tide could eventually turn our way once again.
Kauto Star won't go on forever, while it'll be interesting to see what Long Run does this day next month. But while a lot of improving and progression has to continue before we do have a real, live Gold Cup hope prominent in the betting for the race, the signs are that the potential is there.
With the Irish Point-to-Point world producing more winners than ever, it's hardly any surprise, but it is certainly well overdue.
Hopefully we won't be waiting for much longer.