Trainer David Pipe admits Ballynagour is a “hard horse to predict” ahead of the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham this afternoon.
The French import took a competitive-looking race apart by the seams on his debut for the yard at Warwick, winning by 19 lengths, but he bombed out badly at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Pipe felt he may have been over-trained for the Byrne Group Plate, in which he finished eighth, and has been easier on his charge in the lead-up to this race. He said: “On his best form, he’s obviously got a very good chance. He’s a hard horse to predict because he’s got his problems and he doesn’t take much work to get fit.
“If he was a normal horse then he wouldn’t be fit enough to win on Saturday. He hadn’t done that much work when he absolutely hacked up by 19 lengths at Warwick (last season).
“They said in France as well he didn’t take much work to get fit. He’s in good form at home, he’s schooled nicely and if he’s on his A game then he’s got a good chance.”
Pipe continued the excellent record of his Nicholashayne yard when winning the first major handicap of the season with Great Endeavour two years ago to add to the eight victories claimed by his father, Martin. Jonjo O’Neill’s only previous triumph in the race came through one of the best horses he ever trained, but Johns Spirit will need to stay out of trouble if he is to follow in the footprints of Exotic Dancer.
“He’s grand but the problem for him is this is a hard race, and a different sort of race for him,” said O’Neill. “It’s a big field and the way he has to be ridden, he’ll need a lot of luck in running. But he’s in good form and we’re hoping for the best.”
Steve Gollings saddles Conquisto, who has a fine strike-rate and landed last month’s Old Roan Chase at Aintree in good style while Gary Moore’s Vino Griego finally came of age last season, winning good races at Cheltenham and Ascot and finishing second at the Festival. Moore said: “He always runs his best races round there, which is always helpful. Hopefully he’ll have an each-way chance.”
Alan King runs Kumbeshwar, who ran a sound race in the Haldon Gold Cup while champion trainer Nicky Henderson has three runners, headed by top weight and 2012 Champion Chase winner Finian’s Rainbow, who required a breathing operation last season to ward against dramatically dwindling form. Along with Nadiya De La Vega, Henderson also runs Rajdhani Express, who landed the Listed novice handicap at the last Festival.
Tony McCoy rides Tap Night for Lucinda Russell but admits he would prefer to be on one of JP McManus’ other runners, Nadiya De La Vega or Colour Squadron.
“I think he’s got plenty of weight based on his Carlisle run and he needs to improve,” said McCoy. “If I was a little bit thinner I’d have liked to have ridden either Nadiya De La Vega or Colour Squadron but I couldn’t get down to their weights.
“It’s a wide-open race and I wouldn’t know where to start to find the winner.”