As far as the Cheltenham Gold Cup is concerned, all the pieces of the jigsaw are now face up on the table, though how they will fit next month to produce the picture on the box is still anyone's guess. Bobs Worth, who has not raced since November and will not do so again before the big day, maintained his position as favourite yesterday without stirring from his cosy stable.
But the eight-year-old is now being increasingly closely challenged in the market by Sir Des Champs and Silviniaco Conti, who did emerge into the afternoon's damp, muddy chill to take the last recognised trials for the chasing crown.
Of the two efforts, bookmakers preferred the performance of Sir Des Champs, winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown. After his defeat of the odds-on Flemensfirth in the three-miler, the Willie Mullins-trained gelding is judged as short as a 7-2 shot – to Bobs Worth's 3-1 – to take the Cheltenham prize back to Ireland. Silviniaco Conti, from the Paul Nicholls yard, is now generally 5-1, having readily disposed of The Giant Bolster in the Denman Chase at Newbury.
The Leopardstown result finally put paid to the Gold Cup aspirations of Flemenstar, who once again failed to see out the distance after a threatening move two fences from home.
Sir Des Champs, however, given a lead by stablemate Quel Esprit for much of a contest run steadily in the early stages, stayed on strongly through the closing stages to win by a length and three- quarters, with his rider, Davy Russell, pumping his fist in delight.
"He [Russell] did just the right thing in stepping up the pace four out," said Mullins. "He knew Flemenstar was going well just behind him and wanted to make it a real staying test from there. And the horse is going to be suited by a stronger pace all the way, and by better ground."
Silviniaco Conti, who strutted his stuff an hour before Sir Des Champs, briefly held second spot in the betting after his ruthlessly professional display under Ruby Walsh. The Denman Chase, another over two furlongs short of the Gold Cup distance, was notable for the exuberant display in front from Mail de Bievre, having his first run for more than two years and his first since joining Tom George.
Only The Giant Bolster, Silviniaco Conti and Menorah could keep in touch, with the first two named passing him in the air three out as he tired. From there, Silviniaco Conti, on whom Walsh had ridden a patiently perfect race, pressed on in testing conditions to extend his advantage to seven lengths. "He's a gem," said the rider. "He's very sure of what he's doing over a fence and he's got plenty of scope. And he's done that well for a horse short of full fitness."
Nicholls was equally delighted. "Proper job," he said. "He's not the quickest, but he's a true stayer, a sound jumper and he's improving. I've left a bit to work on physically as he's had just the one real target, and that's next month."
As well as Gold Cup pointers, the afternoon brought a sense of justice. On Monday, the death in action of the exciting young hurdling talent Darlan had been a huge blow to the stable that houses Bobs Worth, that of Nicky Henderson, as well as the ill-fated horse's owner, JP McManus, and rider, Tony McCoy. But yesterday there was compensation for the three men with My Tent Or Yours, who turned the Betfair Hurdle, one of the most competitive handicaps, into a five-length rout as the 5-1 favourite.
"If there's one good thing I've done this season," said an emotional McCoy," it was to get the boss [McManus] to buy this horse." The six-year-old is now 7-4 favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, the Festival opener four weeks on Tuesday.
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