Racing: Walsh fears meeting Trouble in Gold Cup

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The Independent Online

Sue Magnier, the daughter of Vincent O'Brien, is a sweet-looking and noble woman and she names her horses accordingly. Most of the thoroughbreds which run under her ownership are jointly possessed by Michael Tabor and, this last Flat season, included the attractively titled Galileo, Mozart and Milan.

Mrs Magnier's husband, John, is not quite as sweet-looking but is ferociously admired, even by those who are not his natural friends. The brains behind the Coolmore breeding juggernaut does not apparently mind the less flattering association which comes with at least one of the Magnier string.

His hurdler Ned Kelly is named after the horse thief and bushranger who was pulled out of his homemade welding mask and hanged in Australia while still in his 20s.

But while Magnier might be prepared to yield the romantic high ground to his wife, he is not ready to compromise in terms of quality. Ned Kelly proved at Leopardstown yesterday that he might achieve the high station of other family property when he sauntered away with the AIG Europe Champion Hurdle.

The six-year-old's five-length success in the Grade One contest prompted William Hill to cut Ned Kelly to 6-1 for the Champion Hurdle and become one of the leading challengers to Istabraq, who is owned by Magnier's friend and business partner J P McManus.

It was a performance which went a long way to erasing the memory of two consecutive defeats for Ned Kelly, who broke a blood vessel when third to Limestone Lad 56 days previously. He was always lobbing along on the bridle behind first Kilcash Castle and then Liss A Paoraigh, until Mick Fitzgerald on Nicky Henderson's Geos tried to make a decisive manoeuvre on the run to the penultimate flight. It did not work. Ned Kelly was cantering in behind.

"He's silenced all his critics today," Norman Williamson, the winning jockey, said. "He's always proved to us he's very good. At the second last, Mick Fitzgerald started slapping Geos and Ned Kelly was running away with me. He's an exceptionally good horse. I wouldn't swap him."

There was, however, grave disappointment for another home luminary at Leopardstown when Moscow Flyer fell for the second time in five starts in the Irish version of the Arkle Trophy. The main beneficiary of this tumble was Willie Mullins's Assessed, who completed a weekend of rich reward for his rider, Ruby Walsh.

The previous day, Walsh collected the Pillar Property Chase at Cheltenham with Rince Ri. The dates are now piling up for the dance king and it not certain that he will run in the Blue Riband on 14 March.

"It's a very good Gold Cup without having a great star like Arkle in it," Ted Walsh, the trainer, said yesterday. "There are a lot of good horses that you could make a case for. It would not surprise anyone if Looks Like Trouble, Best Mate, Marlborough, First Gold, Sackville or Rince Ri won a Gold Cup. It will be a fascinating race. I'd love to have a crack at it. He's nine years old and he's well and sound. It might be the best chance he'd ever have.

"But I'm entitled to wonder if he's classy enough. He hasn't done anything to suggest he can achieve something like Looks Like Trouble. He looked good the other day, and he's already been to Cheltenham and won his Gold Cup in style. He's the one that everyone has to beat.

"It's not as if mine is tailor-made for a Gold Cup. It's going to be about the most competitive Gold Cup we've seen for 20 years. Any one of 10 could win it. He's not guaranteed to win a Gold Cup so if there's a good pot coming up, and he has a chance, that's where he'll be going.

"The whole thing is not necessarily geared with the Gold Cup in mind. We've got the Irish National two weeks after that as well. And the English National for that matter."

Rince Ri could next be seen in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday week, though there is also a contest at Naas two weeks later which will fit more easily into his schedule.

Whatever the destination, it seems likely that Rince Ri will next wear blinkers in an effort to make him concentrate. Walsh does not consider the blinds a badge of shame, neither a garment of last resort, but rather a mechanism with which to keep his son in the saddle.

It might be that we need father Ted at Cheltenham as a counterbalance. If the Trappist John Magnier is to win one of the championship events, then we need Walsh to use up the Irish quota of celebratory quotes.

CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP (14 March): Coral: 6-1 Best Mate, Looks Like Trouble, 8-1 Bacchanal, 9-1 First Gold, Lord Noelie, 10-1 Sackville, Shooting Light, 12-1 Florida Pearl, 14-1 Behrajan, Marlborough, 16-1 Rince Ri, What's Up Boys; William Hill: 5-1 Looks Like Trouble, 6-1 Best Mate, 10-1 Bacchanal, First Gold, Florida Pearl, Sackville, Shooting Light, 12-1 Behrajan, Lord Noelie, Marlborough, 14-1 Rince Ri.

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