Florida cruises back into Gold Cup contention

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The Independent Online

Leopardstown was not so much a racetrack yesterday as a galeswept outpost of the futures market. There were waxed jackets and tweeds, not brightly-striped blazers, but in the bars and on the terraces, the buzz was little different from a trading pit in open outcry. Cheltenham is coming, and there are medium-term investment portfolios to compile.

Leopardstown was not so much a racetrack yesterday as a galeswept outpost of the futures market. There were waxed jackets and tweeds, not brightly-striped blazers, but in the bars and on the terraces, the buzz was little different from a trading pit in open outcry. Cheltenham is coming, and there are medium-term investment portfolios to compile.

After every race there were rumours and hints, some so strong you would struggle to lift them. Above all, there was the victory of Florida Pearl in the Hennessy Gold Cup, his second in as many years, and with it the impression that he is still getting better. No one got rich backing him at 8-11 yesterday, but many of those who saw him will hope to be seriously wealthy after he runs in the Gold Cup at the Festival in five weeks' time.

Only See More Business, last year's winner, now sits above Florida Pearl in most ante-post lists, after a race which he gripped by the throat with a mile still to run. Back in December, again at Leopardstown, he had been beaten by Rince Ri after arriving at the final fence with Paul Carberry stock-still in his saddle, only to find nothing on the run-in. This time the jockey took no chances, sitting close to the pace, and Florida Pearl jumped with enthusiasm and accuracy.

Turning out of the back straight for the final time, only Dorans Pride could live with him, and then for barely another furlong. He could have fiddled the last and still won handsomely, but there was another fine jump for good measure. As Florida Pearl crossed the line, he certainly looked as if he would still have been galloping on strongly after another two furlongs.

There are plenty of good judges, though, who will not believe that he gets three and a quarter miles with a stiff uphill finish until they see it for themselves. Florida Pearl finished third when favourite for the Gold Cup last season, and a distant third at that. There are few doubts, though, in the mind of his trainer, Willie Mullins.

"I said [to Carberry] that he needn't worry about him staying," Mullins said, "and he kicked on when he wanted to. I've never had any doubts about his stamina. He genuflected at the first, but apart from that, he jumped very well. Cheltenham is next, but we're happy. This is a fantastic race to win."

The best price against Florida Pearl is now 6-1, with Ladbrokes and Sean Graham, and if there is to be an Irish winner in the Gold Cup, it must be him. Danoli, one of his predecessors as the Great Green Hope, ran well for a long way yesterday, but unseated his rider when tiring three out. It would surely be tempting fate too far to run him at the Festival.

Hundreds, at least, of the chilly faces at Leopardstown yesterday will be in Gloucestershire next month. They will travel in hope of Florida Pearl, but in full-blown expectation of Youlneverwalkalone, who humiliated his 10 opponents in the novice hurdle.

Conor O'Dwyer, his jockey, was confident to the point of arrogance as he steered his mount between two tiring rivals on the run to the final flight, when it would have been just as easy, and far safer, to pull around the outside. He got away with it, as he would expect to 49 times out of 50, but when the proper money is down at Cheltenham, his supporters will cheerfully forego a repeat performance.

It was, even so, a display to take the breath away, recorded against a fair selection of Ireland's best novices. The only puzzle now is which Festival race he will contest, given that yesterday's race was over 18 furlongs, and Cheltenham has options at both two miles (Supreme) and two miles five furlongs (Royal & SunAlliance).

"JP [McManus, his owner] favours the two miles, and I've no worries about the two five," Christy Roche, his trainer, said. "He's always been good, with a lot of pace, and he stays forever. It's a dream to get a horse with pace or a horse who stays a trip, and this horse has both."

If money talks, though, it will be the Supreme for Youlneverwalkalone, as Sean Graham reports a thick bet for the gelding from a well-connected source. Those of us without such gilt-edged connections will have to be satisfied with the 7-2 about him from Coral.

Even at a distance of five weeks, Youlneverwalkalone looks to be Ireland's biggest banker, but Native Upmanship may run him close next month. It was bravery rather than brilliance which won him the Grade Two novice chase, and the early pace in the race was so poor that Castle Sweep, the only line to the British form, fell while trying to step over a ditch rather than jump it. Yet this was still form to match the best the British can field against it.

Native Upmanship is now as short as 4-1 from 6-1 (Coral) for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase. The runner-up, Commanche Court, is now a major contender for the Arkle Trophy.

Sungazer earned a 16-1 quote for the Triumph Hurdle after winning the opening four-year-old hurdle, while Sheltering, the 1-2 favourite for the hunter chase and previously considered Ireland's best hope for Cheltenham's Foxhunters' Chase, could finish only six lengths third to Dan's Your Man.

Mullins's debutant in the bumper, Adamant Approach, was cut by Paddy Power from 12-1 to 6-1 joint favourite for the Festival bumper, alongside the Nicky Henderson-trained Inca, after winning the last. He is one of three that Mullins plans to run in the Cheltenham race.

It was that sort of a day, with Festival promise at every turn. If you are looking to invest in Irish racing futures, the smart advice is a buy.

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