Ireland's great hopes on target for Hennessy

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The Independent Online

The mantle of "Ireland's great chasing hope" has been a heavy burden for several horses in recent years, three of whom are expected to line up for the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday. Florida Pearl, Dorans Pride and Danoli were among eight entries for the race yesterday, and if Ireland is to mount a serious challenge for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March, one or all of them will probably need to run with more promise than they have managed in recent months.

The mantle of "Ireland's great chasing hope" has been a heavy burden for several horses in recent years, three of whom are expected to line up for the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday. Florida Pearl, Dorans Pride and Danoli were among eight entries for the race yesterday, and if Ireland is to mount a serious challenge for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March, one or all of them will probably need to run with more promise than they have managed in recent months.

Danoli, of course, has not run at all since October 1998, and his career has been much more stop than go since the days when he was nothing short of a national institution. He is a 33-1 chance for Sunday's race with the Irish bookie Sean Graham, and Tom Foley, his trainer, is not about to talk anyone into backing him. Even so, the mere chance to see the former idol will be enough for the loyal Leopardstown racegoers.

"He'll need the run badly on Sunday but we've got to start somewhere," Foley said yesterday. "If he stays with them for two miles and came out of it good and sound I'd be very happy because I know he'd come on an awful lot from it."

Sunday's race will not be the only chance to judge whether Danoli's old flair remains. "We've the Red Mills Chase at Gowran a fortnight after that, and that would give us a fair idea whether we should go to Cheltenham or stay at home."

Florida Pearl is the 6-5 favourite, with Sean Graham, for Sunday's race in which he must renew rivalry with Rince Ri, his conqueror in the Ericsson Chase over course and distance last month.

The crowd at Leopardstown on Sunday will include racegoers from every generation, but in Britain, it seems, the sport cannot attract enough young supporters to suit some of its major sponsors. Whitbread, racing's oldest sponsor, has announced the end of its support for both the Whitbread Gold Cup and the Murphy's Craic meeting at Cheltenham, complaining that racing was no longer relevant to its target market of 18 to 24-year-olds.

The British Horseracing Board insisted yesterday, however, that attracting young racegoers is among its marketing priorities. "The BHB's own recently published independent study identifies this younger audience as a key target," Teresa Cash, the BHB's marketing consultant, said yesterday. "Whitbread's decision reinforces the need for precisely the sort of urgent action which the recent welcome news of the Levy Board's intention to fund marketing to £10m over three years now makes possible. The BHB is now well under way in drawing up a marketing plan to ensure that such an audience is aware of all that racing has to offer."

As Whitbread went off to pursue teenagers, a new sponsor was announcing a major investment in the sport. Capel Cure Sharp, which has taken over sponsorship of Cheltenham's Supreme Novices' Hurdle, said yesterday that it will increase its portfolio to include the entire two-mile pattern for novices. This will involve events at Cheltenham, Ascot, Sandown, Wetherby and Kempton, leading up to the first race of the Festival itself. The three-year deal is worth £100,000.

Christopher Moorsom, of the company, said: "Racing is the ideal sport to enable us to broaden our corporate identity. I know our clients and staff will really enjoy this involvement."

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