Irish trainer Jessica Harrington looks like going into next month’s Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup with two leading contenders following the return to form of last season’s Irish Grand National winner Our Duke who recorded his first victory of the present campaign when defeating top novice Presenting Percy by a length in Gowran Park’s Red Mills Chase on Saturday afternoon.
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Having to concede 7lb to last year’s Pertemps Final and RSA ante-post favourite meant that the mount of Robbie Power was sent off a generous 5-2 against the Davy Russell-ridden even money market leader but that did not stop the son of Oscar asserting his authority on the run in despite making a blunder at the fourth from home. A disappointing last of seven finishes at Down Royal for Our Duke on his seasonal reappearance was put down to a bad scope, after which the eight-year-old could only manage fourth spot behind shock winner Edwulf in the Unibet Irish Gold Cup.
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A bad mistake at the second-last at Leopardstown when in contention was offered as a genuine excuse and while the gelding’s jumping is still somewhat of a concern Harrington does not expect that to be an issue at Prestbury Park, saying: “ When he’s not going quick he doesn’t concentrate, but when they go a good gallop it makes the difference. He has a very high cruising speed, but when he’s going just below that he is not concentrating. When he gets to Cheltenham he will definitely concentrate.”
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With Harrington in the envious position of having reigning champion Sizing John ( 7-1 with Ladbrokes ) and Our Duke ( 9-1 Betfair Sportsbook ) regular pilot of both Robbie Power has decided to stick with the former in a bid to win back-to-back Gold Cup’s, leaving the door open for Noel Fehily to pick up a great spare ride on the latter in the championship contest, of which he said: “ It’s always good to get the call to ride a horse like him. I’m delighted. There are plenty of horses in with chances, but on his performance yesterday ( Saturday ) I think he has as good a chance as any of them.”