Barry Geraghty keen on Carlingford Lough claims in Irish Gold Cup
Barry Geraghty is hoping he has picked the right horse as Carlingford Lough bids to join a select club in winning the Stan James-sponsored Irish Gold Cup for the third year in succession at Leopardstown on Sunday.
Jodami won the race formerly known as the Hennessy Gold Cup three times between 1993 and 1995, with only the great Florida Pearl, who won four renewals, ranking any better in the history of the race.
Sir Anthony McCoy steered the John Kiely-trained 11-year-old to victory two years ago - just 24 hours after sending shockwaves through the sport by announcing his retirement at Newbury - while Mark Walsh was on board 12 months ago.
Geraghty takes the reins this year and is expecting a bold show following his mount's promising comeback run over hurdles behind Jezki at Navan three weeks ago.
But t he JP McManus silks are also carried by the Jonjo O'Neill-trained pair of Minella Rocco and More Of That, two other horses Geraghty knows well.
And the jockey said in his blog for At The Races: "It was difficult, choosing between Carlingford Lough and Minella Rocco, and even More Of That. In the end, I went for the proven ability of Carlingford Lough, but I could easily have got it wrong.
"Carlingford Lough is top class, and he put up huge performances to win this race in 2015 and again last year. He ran a nice race on his debut this season to finish fourth behind Jezki over hurdles at Navan last month, and that should have brought him forward for this.
" He is 11 years old, and that is obviously against him, but he retains lots of class, he beat Djakadam and Don Poli and Cue Card in the Punchestown Gold Cup last April. The drying ground should suit him, too.
"Even though he won the race last year on heavy ground, he is probably a better horse on better ground."
Trainer Andrew Lynch expects Zabana to raise his game from his run at the Dublin track over Christmas.
A Grade One winner at last season's Punchestown Festival, the eight-year-old was a shade disappointing on his return to action at Down Royal in November.
However, he got his season up and running with victory at Gowran Park three weeks later to earn himself a return to the highest level in the Lexus Chase over the festive period.
While he was ultimately well-beaten in seventh place, Lynch is confident his stable star will put up an improved performance this weekend.
"It's looking good. So long as it stays dry and the ground is as good as it is at the minute, he'll be there," said the County Meath-based trainer.
"I'm expecting him to run better than he did at Christmas. The ground didn't really suit him that day and things didn't go his way.
"I went up there (to Leopardstown) during the week and it's lovely ground now, so hopefully it stays that way.
"The horse is in good form and working well and we're looking forward to running him."
Zabana holds entries in both the Ryanair Chase and the Gold Cup at next month's Cheltenham Festival and while the former is currently his preferred target, plans could change depending on the result of Sunday's race.
Lynch said: "All being well he'll go to Cheltenham.
"I'd say it will be the Ryanair, but we'll see how he goes on Sunday.
"If he were to win, you could think about the Gold Cup. That would be the hope."
Title-chasing Gordon Elliott has two major contenders in Lexus runner-up Don Poli and Troytown Chase hero Empire Of Dirt.
Noel Meade's Road To Riches and Sizing John from Jessica Harrington's stable complete the line-up.