Michael Hourigan yesterday proclaimed the wellbeing of his Gold Cup favourite Dorans Pride after the gelding's exhausting and fruitless slog round Naas on Saturday and, on receiving the news that his charge had been pushed out to 7-1 in Cheltenham betting gave the time-honoured response: "That doesn't worry me - the horse doesn't know it."
And if he did know the odds against improving two places on last year's Gold Cup position of third would Dorans Pride be rushing to master the use of telephone or biro and back himself for Cheltenham? As Hourigan is at a loss to explain what went so terribly wrong at Naas, could Dorans Pride shed a little light on the subject? Was it the combination of too short a distance, too wet a course and too much lead in the saddle that stopped him? Was it that he is really not as good a steeplechaser as we had hoped and calculated or was it simply that something was hurting, his shoe was pinching, his saddle was rubbing?
Hourigan's lack of an explanation adds to the intrigue. "I don't know what happened," the trainer said yesterday. "He was never travelling and perhaps it was just one of those things. It may just have been the ground as he has had only a couple of runs in ground that soft. He didn't jump as well as usual, he didn't have his usual fluency."
If the problem is indeed transitory then the 7-1 now on offer with Coral, Ladbrokes and the Tote must look attractive to die-hard Dorans supporters who this time last week were staring at odds as low as 4-1 about their boy. On the other hand, it was a lamentable performance on Saturday and Hourigan has only 10 weeks in which to work out what the problem was and solve it before Cheltenham.
First, though, he hopes to run the gelding in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown on 8 February, a race in which he could meet his three main market rivals for Cheltenham: The Grey Monk, Imperial Call and Suny Bay.
That race and the Pillar Chase at Cheltenham on 31 January are shaping up as the key Gold Cup trials, with Rough Quest and See More Business heading for Prestbury Park. Unlike the prices against The Grey Monk, Imperial Call and Suny Bay, See More Business's Gold Cup odds remained largely unchanged despite Dorans Pride's defeat and the 12-1 available with William Hill and Ladbrokes looks an attractive price for an improving, lightly- raced horse in form. Based on the notion that The Grey Monk is the one contender for Leopardstown who does not need to prove his wellbeing, he too could be worth supporting for Cheltenham at the 7-1 still available with Coral.
Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (3m 2f 110yds)
Horse (Trainer) Coral William Hill Ladbrokes Tote
Dorans Pride (M Hourigan/Irl) 7-1 6-1 7-1 7-1
The Grey Monk (G Richards) 7-1 6-1 6-1 6-1
Imperial Call (F Sutherland/Irl) 8-1 7-1 8-1 7-1
Suny Bay (C Brooks) 8-1 8-1 8-1 6-1
See More Business (P Nicholls) 7-1 12-1 12-1 10-1
Rough Quest (T Casey) 14-1 16-1 14-1 8-1
Strong Promise (G Hubbard) 16-1 20-1 20-1 20-1
Addington Boy (G Richards) 16-1 25-1 20-1 14-1
Barton Bank (D Nicholson) 25-1 33-1 33-1 20-1
Challenger Du Luc (M Pipe) 25-1 33-1 25-1 25-1
Coome Hill (W Dennis) 25-1 33-1 20-1 25-1
Cyborgo (M Pipe) 16-1 33-1 33-1 33-1
Danoli (T Foley/Irl) 33-1 33-1 33-1 33-1
Each-way a quarter the odds, places, 1, 2, 3 (Cheltenham, Thursday, 19 March)
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