Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Last to be first in hunt for Gold

Prolific: Ulsterman Tony McCoy, closing in on a 19th successive title, returns to Ireland tomorrow to ride at Leopardstown
Prolific: Ulsterman Tony McCoy, closing in on a 19th successive title, returns to Ireland tomorrow to ride at Leopardstown

The Hennessy Gold Cup promises to be an absolutely compelling climax to a brilliant Leopardstown card tomorrow.

That Tidal Bay – a 13-year-old reformed enigma – is the top-rated of seven runners in Leopardstown's €160,000 marquee chase is disappointing in a sense.

Still, Paul Nicholls' 2012 Lexus hero hasn't quite gone into decline yet, and the fact that he is reunited with his wily old partner in crime Ruby Walsh only adds to the intrigue.

The last time they teamed up, Tidal Bay dashed the Cheltenham aspirations of our brightest chasing prospects under an inspired Walsh.

First Lieutenant was mugged on the line that day and he is back after another last-gasp Lexus defeat, to Ulster-bred Bobs Worth.

There is no more interesting runner than Philip Fenton's Last Instalment. A brilliant novice before injury intervened for nearly two years, the nine-year-old is the mount of Brian O'Connell here after Bryan Cooper opted to stick with First Lieutenant.

In particular, it will be fascinating to see how much more there is to come from him after a deeply encouraging Thurles return.

First Lieutenant brings the best and most consistent recent form to the table. He has lots of quality, but has also made a habit of finding one or two too good at this level. He is probably at his most potent on good ground, so his resolve will be tested here.

Texas Jack wasn't winning out of turn at Thurles last time and he has form here in the mud.

However, he has something to prove over this trip, in contrast to Tidal Bay.

Lord Windermere has failed to spark so far this term, while Roi Du Mee might not be quite good enough. Lyreen Legend won't mind conditions and ought to come on for his fine Lexus Chase fifth, but he is just one from seven over fences.

Last Instalment suffered his first chasing defeat when third to Texas Jack at Thurles on his first start for two years.

A high-class individual that slammed First Lieutenant over course and distance as a novice, the imposing gelding has it within his range to shake all these up for what would be a great advertisement of the training talents of Fenton.

So Last Instalment can build on an encouraging reappearance to score.

Willie Mullins has opted not to run Champagne Fever in the Dr PJ Moriarty Chase as he felt he wasn't quite 100 per cent yesterday, but Ballycasey still adds plenty to what has the makings of an intriguing three-horse race.

Fenton's The Tullow Tank is on a Grade One hat-trick in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle.

In the opener, Ivan Grozny seeks to gain revenge on Plinth for a narrow Christmas defeat.

Mullins and Walsh, or Aidan O'Brien and Tony McCoy? What a conundrum.

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