It is asking a lot of a novice to take on and beat seasoned chasers at the highest level - the last to do so in the Gold Cup was another from Ireland, Captain Christy, 22 years ago - but Dorans Pride, formerly a top-class hurdler, has yet to put a foot wrong in his four outings over the bigger obstacles.
His defeat of Britain's best youngster, See More Business, on his previous outing, established him as the leader in the first-season ranks, and yesterday's exercise canter imparted little new information. He was as extravagant as a show-jumper over the early fences as he led his three rivals at a slow pace on the testing going, but as soon as Shane Broderick stepped up the pace after half-way it was noticeable that his jumping settled to a slicker, cleverer style. The only serious activity in the betting ring had been on the winning margin, and the opening show of evens eight lengths-plus looked a gift as the 1-5 favourite came home a distance clear of Le Ginno.
Dorans Pride won the 1995 Stayers' Hurdle on the bridle, but a life-threatening attack of colic last December and the serious surgery which followed ruled him out of a bid for a double last March. If he does return to Cheltenham as a chaser, it will be against his seniors, but his trainer, Michael Hourigan, warned that he is not yet a certain Gold Cup starter.
He said: "He will be entered for the Gold Cup as his owner does not fancy the Sun Alliance [Novices'] Chase. But after nearly losing him this time last year, we are lucky he has come back so well and I'm not keen to tempt fate." Hourigan, however, was delighted with his stable star's performance, which took the Orchestra gelding's win tally to 15 from 23 starts. "Going a bit faster he would be even better," he added. "But we will keep him to novice company, and at home in Ireland, until Cheltenham."
In Dorans Pride and his old hurdling rival Danoli, who trounced Land Afar on Friday, the Irish have two formidable novice chasers, and in Istabraq and Noble Thyne two highly regarded young staying novice hurdlers. That pair have met twice, with the score one-all, and yesterday Noble Thyne matched Istabraq's victory the previous day when he squeaked home in the O'Dwyers Stillorgan Novices' Hurdle. The six-year-old made all and held on gamely when challenged by Ask The Butler after the last, but his trainer, Paddy Mullins, was less than pleased with the winning jockey, Tom Treacy, saying: "The horse had a hard race because Tom turned it into a sprint and our fellow does nothing in a hurry."
The day's richest race, the Ericsson Chase, had a tragic sequel as the successful favourite Johnny Setaside died, from a suspected heart attack, on the way back to the winners' enclosure. His jockey, Richard Dunwoody, who jumped clear as the gallant seven-year-old fell, said: "He began to shake, went a couple of strides, and collapsed under me. It is a real shame. He saw out the race so bravely."
Johnny Setaside, who jumped past the pace-setting Opera Hat two out and beat the staying-on King Of The Gales three lengths despite appearing to idle in front, had given his trainer, Noel Meade, his biggest victory.
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