First Lieutenant is the likely winner

Padraig Roche on Hairy O'Malley wins the Goffs Invitational Sale Pro-Am at Punchestown.
THERE are not many big races before next month’s Cheltenham festival. However, the one ‘big one’ on the horizon is this Sunday’s Hennessy Gold Cup.

THERE are not many big races before next month’s Cheltenham festival. However, the one ‘big one’ on the horizon is this Sunday’s Hennessy Gold Cup.

With no Sir Des Champs or Flemenstar, Sunday’s spectacle will have a much different look to it but it will be a better renewal to the 2012 running won by Quel Esprit.

The likely race favourite will be First Lieutenant, who has been one of the most consistent horses in training in recent seasons. Yet his two Grade 1 wins have come on foreign soil. But his brave effort behind Bobs Worth in this season’s Lexus Chase suggests he’s not far from landing a big race on home soil.

When First Lieutenant followed home Bobs Worth in this season’s Lexus Chase, he had Rubi Ball just a length behind him in third. And that rival looks set to re-oppose on Sunday. A multiple Grade 1 winner in France, Rubi Ball was a tad disappointing on his first start for Willie Mullins. But on his first start over fences in Ireland in December, he really caught the eye.

We all remember Tidal Bay winning last season’s Lexus Chase and if he turns up on Sunday, then he’s got a major chance at 4/1. But on this occasion, he won’t have Ruby Walsh to do the steering.

Of the other horses in Power’s betting and Lord Windermere, who has disappointed in his two runs this term.

So it’s the Hennessy Gold Cup and generally whatever wins heads Ireland’s chances of a Cheltenham Gold Cup. And while it’s likely to be a home winner, Sunday’s successor could bring a French connection to the occasion.

Leader’s Big Race Banker: Rubi Ball. Danger: First Lieutenant.