Our Duke is a hopeful choice to give Jessica Harrington back-to-back victories in the Unibet Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown tomorrow.
Harrington won the race 12 months ago with subsequent Cheltenham hero Sizing John and, this time, relies on last season’s Boylesports Irish Grand
National winner, returning after a three-month break and bidding to bounce back after a lacklustre seasonal bow at Down Royal in early November.
Our Duke underwent back surgery in the wake of his disappointing run behind one of tomorrow’s rivals, Outlander, in the JNwine.com Champion Chase.
But the eight-year-old has pleased his trainer in his recent schooling sessions. And, in a wide-open renewal of this race, he gets the nod.
Our Duke, a second season novice, has won three of his five chases, including a Grade 1 novice success over today’s course and distance and a close second to Disko over a shorter trip also at Leopardstown.
He galloped his rivals into submission in the Irish National at Easter, when racing off a mark of 153. Boasting a mark of 167, he has the potential to make the grade at the highest level. And he must prove that point tomorrow.
Tomorrow’s field includes two others trying to make the grade at the highest level after significant wins in ultra-competitive handicaps, Anibale Fly and Mala Beach. But they have a bit to find on ratings.
Outlander, twice a Grade 1 winner over fences, including the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal, boasts an excellent record at Leopardstown and finished a creditable third to Road To Respect last time, at Christmas. He looks sure to be in the shake-up.
Willie Mullins runs both the lightly-raced and relatively inexperienced Killultagh Vic, the mount of Paul Townend, and Djakadam, an very consistent performer in top company in recent seasons, but pulled up behind Road To Respect at Christmas.
The only British challenger is Jonjo O’Neill’s Minella Rocco, runner-up to Sizing John in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, and fourth on two visits to Ireland this season, including the Christmas Chase, behind Road To Respect.
Classy chaser Total Recall is difficult to oppose in the three-mile William Fry Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown tomorrow.
The nine-year-old has won two competitive handicap chases in his only starts since joining Willie Mullins, above. And, off a very favourable hurdle mark of 125, he’ll be sent off at a short price for this 17-runner handicap.
Transferred to Closutton following the retirement of Sandra Hughes, Total Recall coasted to victory (off a mark of 129) in the Ladbrokes Munster National at Limerick in October.
And, off an 18lb higher mark he backed that up with a gutsy victory over Whisper in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in early December.
Rated 156 over fences and 31lb lower for hurdling, Total Recall is being aimed at the Aintree Grand National and, no matter how easily he wins tomorrow, his chase mark will be safe. He’s impossible to oppose, assuming he copes with the return to small obstacles.
Joseph O’Brien’s French import Vieux Morvan appeals in the Chanelle Pharma Handicap Chase, known over the decades as the Leopardstown Chase.
On a superb Leopardstown supporting card tomorrow, odds-on favourite Samcro should retain his unbeaten record for Gordon Elliott in the two-mile Deloitte Novice Hurdle.
Returning after a fall at Christmas, the exciting, Henry de Bromhead-trained Monalee might prove too strong for Sutton Place and five Mullins runners, spear-headed by Invitation Only, in the Flogas Novice Chase.
Espoir D’allen will be a hot favourite to extend his unbeaten hurdling record in the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle. But I’ll take a chance on Farclas, in his first hurdling excursion and open to plenty of improvement.
Peter O’Hehir Tips
2.25.A Great View
Double: Samcro and Total Recall.
O’Hehir’s Longshot: Flawless Escape (2.25)