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."

house + home
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Life and Style
Bats detect and react to wind speed and direction through sensors on their wings
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living