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Mark Your Card: your best bets for Hennessy Gold Cup day

Declan Smyth gets us ready for a big day of racing at Leopardstown. Here are his selections.

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WITH RACING AT Newbury rescheduled for next Friday, there are probably a few UK trainers regretting not entering their horses for Leopardstown this weekend.

Next Friday leaves just 32 days to start of Cheltenham and there’ll be a few anxious looks at weather forecasts between now and then as time runs out for that final prep race before the festival.

A few trainers have travelled their horses over and a couple of them can be rewarded. With four Grade 1 races at Leopardstown today, a great day of racing is promised.


Our first Grade 1 is the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at 13:05 and it appears to be a wide-open contest.

Ut De Sivola is likely to start as favourite on the back of his two wins over hurdles, and the fact that he comes from the Willie Mullins stable. However I would tread cautiously here.

He beat Dermot Weld’s Hisaabaat, who reopposes here, by over three lengths at Punchestown last month; however the latter made a mistake at the last and might have been closer. Add in that it was Hisaabaat’s second start in six days on soft/heavy ground and our likely favourite might have been a bit flattered.

Asaid from John Ferguson’s Newmarket yard is interesting. He was a winner on his only start over hurdles, and the horse whom he beat by two lengths into second that day has since come out and won by 20 lengths. Four winners have come from the race but the third-placed horse — who was beaten by over 20 lengths that day — has twice been beaten by long distances since.

There are easy pickings in juvenile hurdles in the UK so it’s sometimes hard to evaluate races. There’s no doubting the trainer’s ability and he wouldn’t send a horse on a fool’s errand, so he must have a chance.

His Excellency decided to put his head in front last time after declining the offer of winning on a number of previous occasions. He has the ability, but can he produce it consistently?

I’m going to recommend an each-way bet on another UK runner, COUNTRYWIDE FLAME. He has won three of his five hurdle races and was runner-up to the consistent Hollow Tree in a Grade 1 race at Chepstow’s Christmas meeting.

He wasn’t knocked about that day and with the winner going on to run a cracker (despite Jason Maguire dropping his stick after the last) behind Pearl Swan and Grumeti, who are highly fancied for the Triumph Hurdle, Countrywide Flame is great each-way value.


The Deloitte Novice Hurdle over 2m2f goes off at 14:10 and has the makings of a cracking race.

If we take out Benefficient, there is little between the other five Irish runners on a line of form through Dylan Ross.

Cash and Go beat Sous Les Cieux into third over 2m on good to yielding ground here at Christmas. The extra trip here will help the Mullins horse, and if the ground softens up from its present good to yielding, it will be another positive.

Cash and Go has won on soft ground also but this is a step up in trip for him.

Il Fenomeno, Lord Windermere and Burn And Turn all have winning form but preference is for Nicky Henderson’s CAPTAIN CONAN.

It can be argued that he was a lucky winner of the Grade 1 novice hurdle at Sandown in January when the wayward Colour Squadron tried to run off the course, but Captain Conan came to the race with a big reputation. He’ll appreciate the step up in trip and I think that he’ll run a big race.


The Grade 1 Novice Chase over 2m5f is due off at 14:40 only has four runners, but there could be a shock.

Call The Police was an impressive winner of his only start over fences in November but this is a step up in class. Likewise, Shoot From The Hip will have to improve on his narrow victory over Ninetieth Minute at Fairyhouse last month to win.

Lambro from the Mullins yard is very interesting. He beat Shinrock Paddy over 2m3f at Naas in November before dropping back to 2m in January where he was beaten by three lengths by the brilliant Flemenstar.

The step back up in trip won’t be a problem, and though he has to find 11lbs on his rating with his rival Last Instalment today, he should be capable of improvement.

However, LAST INSTALMENT has been impressive in all his runs this season and I can’t really oppose him.


Finally, the white flag will be raised at about 15:45 for our feature race of the day, the Hennessy Gold Cup.

It is not the best renewal of the race by a long shot but it’s an interesting contest nonetheless with a number of horses holding a choice of engagements at Cheltenham.

Boston’s Angel has been disappointing this season after winning the RSA Chase at Cheltenham last season. He had a hard race that day and it may have told. His trainer tries cheekpieces tomorrow and believes the horse has improved recently. The stable is in form and hopefully he can run a big race.

China Rock broke down in last years Gold Cup and had his comeback in a hurdle race in January. However I’m prepared to wait and see how he runs here before backing him again.

Follow The Plan is the highest-rated horse in the race having won the Guinness Gold Cup at Punchestown last May. He was well-beaten by Synchronised on his reappearance in December, and followed it up with a four-length second to Apt Approach at Thurles in January. He will improve for those runs but I think he’ll have to find more.

Roberto Goldback might not get ground to suit, while Treacle looks outclassed. Quel Esprit fell at Cheltenham and here last year and although he’s won twice this season, I think his odds of 5/4 are short enough.

The value for me is the Dessie Hughes-trained MAGNANIMITY. He made his seasonal reappearance at Leopardstown at Christmas, where he ran a great race to the back of the second last-fence and was still there turning for home before been allowed to pop the last and finish in his own time. He’ll come on a ton for that and his trainer is expecting a big run.]

Whatever happens tomorrow there’s no doubt it will whet our appetites for Cheltenham. I can’t wait.

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