Timeform preview the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday...
The Irish Gold Cup is a significant Grade 1 in its own right, but it can often help paint a picture of what is likely to happen in the Cheltenham equivalent in March. This year's renewal features no end of horses who are capable of landing the double, but one horse who has been there and done it is Sizing John.
The Jessica Harrington-trained Sizing John enjoyed a spectacular 2016/17, becoming the first horse to win the Irish Gold Cup, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Punchestown Gold Cup in the same season. He has only seen the track three times since, though, plagued by injuries, and he failed to complete in luckless fashion back over hurdles after two years off at Punchestown last month. However, the 10-year-old showed plenty of spark still remained at Punchestown, and he had yet to be asked for an effort when stumbling/falling soon after the third-last. It will be interesting to see how he fares back over fences now.
Whether Sizing John can reach the level he once achieved is unlikely, though, and it is Kemboy and Delta Work who are the ones to beat on form. Kemboy looked rusty after eight months off when three and a quarter lengths fourth to Delta Work in the Savills Chase over C&D last month. He was far from disgraced finishing behind three top-class rivals who all had the benefit of a run, and he still held every chance at the last before finishing one-paced on the run-in. That will have blown away the cobwebs and Timeform's joint-highest rated chaser in training (along with Cyrname) is expected to fare much better now.
Delta Work was one of the best novices around last season, winning the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse, the Neville Hotels Novice Chase over this C&D and the Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown. He was widely expected to make a seamless transition to open company on his return in the JNwine.com Chase at Downpatrick, but never got into a rhythm under a new rider and could only beat one home. However, he proved a different proposition to win the Savills Chase last time, confirming himself a force to be reckoned with at the highest level. Still only a seven-year-old, he is open to further progress, and looks the biggest danger to Kemboy.
It wouldn't be wise to rule out two-time Cheltenham Festival winner Presenting Percy, either. He was easy to back on his return from nine months off over an inadequate trip in the John Durkan won by Min, and wasn't seen to best effect under a typically patient ride in the Savills Chase last time. Presenting Percy was doing all of his best work at the finish, having been caught out of his ground off the home turn, and he will likely come on again for that. Connections have been very bullish about his chances, stating that he could be ridden more prominently this time, so it would be folly to ignore his chances.
Chris's Dream is something of an unknown quantity, having showed much-improved form after seven months off to win the Troytown Handicap Chase at Navan. Connections were reportedly aiming for the Thyestes after, so it could be seen a positive that they bypassed that in favour of this, and he shouldn't be underestimated.
Last year's winner Bellshill also deserves a mention. Things haven't gone to plan since his hard-fought win in this race 12 months ago, disappointing in both the Cheltenham and Punchestown Gold Cups after, and not showing much on his return to action in the Savills last time (has gone well fresh in the past before). He is entitled to come on for that, though, and this run should reveal more.
The Warren Greatrex-trained mare La Bague Au Roi rattled off a four-timer as a novice last season, and after a slow start to this campaign, she was right back to her best when one and a quarter lengths third to Lady Buttons in listed mares event at Doncaster last time. The winner has since boosted that form, and La Bague Au Roi will be suited by the step back up to three miles here, but even her best form leaves her with plenty to find with the principals.
In conclusion, the Savills form is taken to come to the fore here, with Kemboy fancied to emerge on top this time after that encouraging return to action. He should have too much for his rivals if back near his best, and this should set him up perfectly for another tilt at the Gold Cup in March.
Back Kemboy in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday