Meade casts Irish eyes on elusive Hennessy


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The Independent Online

Though most of Britain's prestige jumping prizes are regularly shipped to Ireland, there is one that has proved surprisingly elusive to the raiders. In 54 runnings, the Hennessy Gold Cup has been exported on only three occasions, firstly during the 1960s by dual winner Arkle and most recently back in 1980 by Bright Highway.

Nine years ago Be My Royal might – and many will still say should – have made it four; Willie Mullins's charge passed the post first but was later disqualified after testing positive to a prohibited substance, the source of which proved to be contaminated feedstuff and no fault of the trainer.

The task of ending 41 years of Hibernian hurt at Newbury on Saturday falls to Muirhead, trained in Co Meath by Noel Meade, whose Harbour Pilot – who was promoted from third to second in Be My Royal's year – was the last from an Irish yard to be placed in a Hennessy.

Muirhead, formerly a high-class hurdler, has had only five starts over fences and gave a glimpse of his potential with a comfortable victory over some reliable and more experienced yardsticks at Limerick last month.

And though he and Paul Carberry subsequently trailed in only eighth at Ascot, he had the excuse of being hampered by a fatally injured rival as he started his run for home.

"Paul said he was going well enough at the time to have a big chance," said Meade yesterday. "He certainly looked booked for a place at least, and then he ran into the faller."

The eight-year-old, relatively unexposed as a chaser, gets into Saturday's £150,000 three-and-a-quarter mile contest low in the handicap and goes to the fray off the back of a sparkling piece of work on Tuesday morning.

"He's not an easy horse to train," added Meade. "He's hard to keep weight on and I've had to be easy on him since Ascot. But he did seem to work very well and I'm happy with him."

Muirhead can be backed at 33-1 for the Newbury showpiece, for which 6-1 shot Aiteen Thirtythree, trained by Paul Nicholls, heads the market. A year ago today the seven-year-old made a successful debut over fences at the Berkshire track in the Grade 2 three-miler that this afternoon features one of the season's most exciting chasing recruits, the current RSA favourite Grands Crus.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Sentimental Journey (1.35 Newbury) Caught flat-footed in a sprint to the finish when apprentice-ridden last time round. But today's likely stronger pace and definite stronger handling should work to provide a better effect.

Next best

Golden Chieftain (12.50 Uttoxeter) Fell on his chasing debut two weeks ago, but was starting a convincing forward move at the time.

One to watch

However Viking Blond (Nigel Twiston-Davies) fares at Newbury today, this sound-jumping, strong-staying mudlark should not be forgotten come Welsh National time.

Where the money's going

Wayward Prince was the Hennessy horse for support yesterday, cut from 10-1 to 8-1 by Ladbrokes.