Oats leads the invaders

Racing: Sue Montgomery examines British prospects for today's Gold Cup in Ireland
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The Independent Online
THE Gold Cup focus switches to Leopardstown today as Master Oats and Monsieur Le Cure challenge Ireland's best on home ground in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup. The home side has scored only once, through Carvill's Hill seven years ago, since the three-mile chase was instituted in 1987, but each of this afternoon's raiders has something to prove as they attempt to maintain British domination in the race.

The contest represents one of the last opportunities for Cheltenham contenders to compete outside handicap company. Master Oats, the likely favourite, has failed to show his best form since his triumph at Cheltenham last March, although his third place behind One Man in the King George VI Chase was something of a relief to trainer Kim Bailey after a disastrous seasonal debut.

He was joined on the plane from Liverpool yesterday by the horse who finished three lengths in front of him at Sandown. Monsieur Le Cure, a son of The Parson, is one of those horses to try the patience of a saint, never mind a mortal trainer like John Edwards. The 10-year-old won five in a row as a novice two years ago, including a rout of One Man at Cheltenham, but has won only once since.

With question marks over the British challengers, the Irish must fancy their chances of taking the pounds 75,000 prize. The local with the runs on the board is the John Mulhearn-trained 11- year-old Flashing Steel, who won the Irish National carrying 12 stone last year and looked as good as ever at Fairyhouse on his seasonal return in December. He is my idea of the winner.

A rather better judge, Richard Dunwoody, has opted for the Broadsword gelding's experience, rather than the youth of the promising Imperial Call. This callow seven-year-old, in his second season over fences, is trained by Fergie Sutherland in Co Cork, and a bold showing will mark him as the first Cheltenham runner for the former Enniskillen Dragoon guardsman. Last time out Imperial Call showed determination to beat Strong Platinum (albeit in receipt of 12lb) over two and a half miles of today's track, and should be suited to step up in distance.

Charlie Swan's mount, Life Of A Lord, has not run since landing the Kerry National at Listowel under 11st 13lb in September. The 10-year-old son of Strong Gale is one of the most improved handicap chasers, unbeaten in four starts since joining Irish champion Aidan O'Brien last year. He headed his stable's clean sweep in the Galway Plate before beating four subsequent winners at Listowel and is a reliable jumper. He steps up in class this afternoon and may need the run after his long absence, but his performance should be closely watched, particularly with Aintree in mind.