Racing: Imperial Call back on Gold Cup double trail

The Irish will travel to Cheltenham in even better heart than usual, with leading contenders for the championships over both hurdles and fences.

Greg Wood reports on the Festival clues which emerged from the Christmas programme.

For a horse who gave Ireland its first Cheltenham Gold Cup in a decade just 21 months ago, Imperial Call has faded from the punting consciousness surprisingly quickly. Following the unexpected withdrawal of Dorans Pride from the Ericsson Chase at Leopardstown yesterday, though, Fergie Sutherland's chaser had the chance to lay down a Festival form line all by himself, and it was an opportunity he did not spurn.

In the front rank from the off, Imperial Call jumped impeccably and took control of the Grade Two event with more than a mile still to run and galloped on solidly to beat Merry Gale by seven lengths. Its was his first win since the Gold Cup itself in 1996. Sutherland now plans to run Imperial Call in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown on 8 February, when Dorans Pride should be among his opponents, after which he will attempt to become the first horse in National Hunt history to regain the Blue Riband.

William Hill now offer just 7-1 (from 12-1) against that unique achievement, although it may be instructive that 12-1 is still available with at least one Irish bookie. The identity of the best chaser in Ireland will now become clear only on 8 February, and to judge by the ante-post Gold Cup prices at least, Dorans Pride, a 4-1 chance for the Festival with Hills, is still the one that most of the visiting punters will be arriving in Gloucestershire to back.

Michael Hourigan's plan for Dorans Pride had long been to stay at home until the Festival itself, but after yesterday's unexpected withdrawal, an early trip to Britain is much more likely. "He had a drop on his foot, like an abscess or a boil, when we pulled him out this morning," Hourigan said yesterday. "It will only take two or three days to recover and we could take the chance and run but if he damaged a tendon you would never forgive yourself.

``It gives us a bit of a headache as it's thrown us out of line. He's ready to run and we must find something for him in the next week or two but there is nothing in Ireland until February. If we find something in England he'll run there. I don't mind bringing him back to two and a half miles but I don't want to run him in a handicap and it must not be too close to the Hennessy at Leopardstown."

All things considered, the future looks bright for Irish racing with the Festival now just 11 weeks (and one day) distant. The first two names in Hill's Gold Cup list are both trained there, and so too is Istabraq, the ante-post favourite for the Champion Hurdle, who attempts to make it three out of three for the season in the Grade Two December Hurdle at Leopardstown this afternoon. With just four opponents, the best of them probably Lady Daisy, third behind Cockney Lad at Cork last month, Aidan O'Brien's gelding is unlikely to relinquish his position at the head of the championship betting.

The British challenge for the Gold Cup seems to lie with Suny Bay and The Grey Monk (both 8-1 for Cheltenham), and the King George VI Chase winner, See More Business, a 12-1 chance who will run next over the Gold Cup track and trip in the Pillar Property Investment Chase next month.

"I think that race is a good stepping-stone to the Gold Cup as conditions are likely to be in our favour," Paul Nicholls, his trainer, said yesterday. "We have got to train the horse with Cheltenham in mind now. If the ground was on the easy side he would be a major player. See More Business is gradually getting his act together jumping-wise and has come on leaps and bounds. He was winning a maiden point-to-point at Larkhill three years ago and the other day he won the King George - that can't be bad, can it?"

The Festival is also the target for Adrian Maguire, who has missed the jump season's showpiece meeting for the last three years, after his latest injury in a fall at Kempton on Saturday.

Having returned only recently from a two-week absence with a fractured arm, Maguire fell from Hurricane Lamp and the same arm will now be in plaster for six weeks. "Adrian is quite relieved it won't rule him out of Cheltenham," the jockey's wife, Sabrina, said yesterday. "The bone he cracked three weeks ago has opened into a break and it was quite swollen yesterday evening, but at least Cheltenham is looking good."

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick