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Nolan keeps faith in Joncol

Trainer plans new tactics to revive Ireland's hopes for a giant-killer in the Gold Cup

Sometimes, plan B can be the one. Whether or not the best staying chaser in Ireland, Joncol, carries his country's flag in the Cheltenham Gold Cup will depend on his performance in next month's Hennessy Gold Cup, over the same three-mile course and distance where plan A went slightly awry nine days ago.

Joncol, one of last term's most exciting novices, put his top-level pretensions on the line in the Lexus Chase, only to be narrowly thwarted by two raiders from Britain, What A Friend and Money Trix. But trainer Paul Nolan has not yet thrown in the towel on behalf of the giant black gelding and his young rider Alain Cawley.

"We were disappointed to be beaten," he said, "no point in pretending we weren't. I don't like making excuses but but in this case we may just have got the tactics wrong, and for that I entirely blame myself. I said to go out and be positive, but with hindsight we probably made too much use of him and by the end he was a target to be shot at."

After tracking the pacesetting Notre Pere, the seven-year-old took him on for the lead and, though still clear going to the final obstacle, was caught in the final 100 yards. "It's hard to run with the choke out the whole way," added Co Wexford-based Nolan, "and particularly round Leopardstown. There's not many tracks as stiff; there's no downhill stretch you can get a breather in and no prisoners are taken on the run to the finish."

Joncol has yet to win over three miles in a steeplechase – let alone the three-and-a-quarter of the Cheltenham Gold Cup – though he did over the trip in a point-to-point in his early career.

"For a horse of his physique that was some savage achievement as a four-year-old," he added, "he's 18 hands and was still growing then. He's always raced like a horse who stays a trip, and we'll go again over it.

"Next time, we'll try and drop him out more, and see what happens, and if it doesn't work then maybe we'll say that yes, he's beaten by better horses. But we'll see. The Gold Cup is only at the back of our minds but it would be nice to think – Kauto Star and Denman apart, of course – that he could be among the best of the contenders."

* Early-morning inspections are planned for today's all-weather meetings at Kempton and Lingfield. Fixtures at both courses were called off yesterday because of snow, completing a wipe-out of the day's racing.

Turf account: Sue Montgomery


Xpres Maite (1.10 Southwell) Has won three times over today's course and distance.

Next best

Lord Victor (1.40 Southwell) In-form track specialist who is easily pick of the weights.

One to watch

Pantalaimon (H D Daly) was an encouraging third on last month's debut over fences.

Where the money's going

Notus De La Tour is 25-1 for the Triumph Hurdle with Paddy Power.

Chris McGrath's Nap

Tallest Peak (3.10 Southwell).