Meade’s Muirhead in pursuit of elusive Gold
Though most of Britain's prestige jumping prizes are regularly shipped to Ireland, there is one that has proved surprisingly elusive to the raiders.
In 54 runnings, the Hennessy Gold Cup has been exported on only three occasions, firstly during the 1960s by dual winner Arkle and most recently back in 1980 by Bright Highway.
Nine years ago Be My Royal might — and many will still say should — have made it four. Willie Mullins' charge passed the post first but was later disqualified after testing positive to a prohibited substance, the source proving to be contaminated feedstuff and no fault of the trainer.
The task of ending all those years of Hibernian hurt at Newbury on Saturday falls to Muirhead, trained in Co Meath by Noel Meade, whose Harbour Pilot — promoted from third to second in Be My Royal's year — was the last from an Irish yard to be placed in a Hennessy.
Muirhead, formerly a high-class hurdler, has had only five starts over fences and gave a glimpse of his potential with a comfortable victory over some reliable and more experienced yardsticks at Limerick last month.
And though he and Paul Carberry subsequently trailed in only eighth at Ascot, he had the excuse of being hampered by a fatally injured rival as he started his run for home.
“Paul said he was going well enough at the time to have a big chance,” said Meade yesterday.
“He certainly looked booked for a place at least, and then he ran into the faller.”
The eight-year-old, relatively unexposed as a chaser, gets into Saturday's £150,000 three-and-a-quarter mile contest low in the handicap and goes to the fray off the back of a sparkling piece of work on Tuesday morning.
“He's not an easy horse to train,” added Meade. “He's hard to keep weight on and I've had to be easy on him since Ascot.
“But he did seem to work very well and I'm happy with him.”
Muirhead can be backed at |33-1 for the Newbury showpiece for which 6-1 shot Aiteen Thirtythree, trained by Paul Nicholls, heads the market.
Meanwhile, Alain Cawley continued to take advantage of his temporary opportunity with trainer Martin Keighley when riding a third winner — Always Bold — since his move to Britain at Fontwell yesterday.
Galway-born Cawley has been with Keighley's Gloucestershire yard for a month, with stable jockey Ian Popham out injured.