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
voices
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried