/ Racing

Johns Spirit will need luck to shine in Paddy Power Gold Cup

Updated: Friday, 15 Nov 2013 14:26 | Comments

Jonjo O'Neill saddles Johns Spirit in the feature
Jonjo O'Neill saddles Johns Spirit in the feature

Jonjo O'Neill's only previous victory in Saturday's Paddy Power Gold Cup came through one of the best horses he ever trained, but Johns Spirit will need to stay out of trouble if he is to follow in the footprints of Exotic Dancer.

The former hero, who spent much of his career chasing Kauto Star's tail, went off at 16-1 back in 2006 and Johns Spirit is expected to be sent off a fair bit shorter after his easy victory over the course and distance at Cheltenham's last meeting.

A hold-up performer, Johns Spirit had won only once in eight other starts over fences and was raised 10lb for his comfortable three-and-a-half-length victory, but the last horse to do the double in those events was Shooting Light back in 2001.

"He's grand but the problem for him is this is a hard race, and a different sort of race for him," said O'Neill.

"It's a big field and the way he has to be ridden, he'll need a lot of luck in running. But he's in good form and we're hoping for the best."

Champion trainer Nicky Henderson has three runners in the first major event of the new campaign, headed by top-weight Finian's Rainbow.

The 2012 Champion Chase winner required a breathing operation last season to ward against dramatically dwindling form.

He did not make the Festival and was then beaten at both Aintree and Sandown.

"If he has regained his form, he's never going to get the chance off this mark again," said Henderson.

"So there is a temptation to try it rather than go back down the two-mile route where, if he did win, he'd go back up to where he came from."

Along with Nadiya De La Vega, Henderson also runs Rajdhani Express, who landed the Listed novice handicap at the last Festival.

Owner Robert Waley-Cohen said: "He really got it together in the second half of last season. He won off 129 at Kempton on Boxing Day and will run off 155 now.

"He won at the Festival, which was great, but it was a handicap and now he has to run against horses who are used to racing in Graded company.

"We did win a Grade Two up at Ayr, so he did improve an awful lot. The ground should be perfect for him."

The Pipe team are always feared in the Paddy Power, especially with the still unexposed Ballynagour now their only runner, but there has been plenty of money about this week for the Martin Keighley-trained Champion Court, who is not far off top-class on his day.

The locally-based Keighley said: "We have been targeting the Paddy Power because we still believe he is on a fair mark. You look at his run in the King George, he had Grade One horses beat off level weights turning in, but he didn't get home in the ground.

"He went up 2lb for beating Menorah in April, but I still don't think he was back to his best then, so we think he will be competitive.

"He's so tough and genuine and that was his undoing in the King George, in heavy ground he didn't quite stay but he kept on trying and it really bottomed him.

"It's nice to have him fresh and well and he's working as well as he's ever worked.

"He never really got over his hard race in the King George last season and I just feel I've got him in better form now after a break.

"You need a horse that jumps and travels well and he does that. You look at his record there, even going back to novice hurdles, and it is very good."

Shark Hanlon's string are in better form now and Hidden Cyclone, who had a restorative victory at Listowel in September, is in the reckoning.

"He had a racecourse gallop at Fairyhouse and that all went to plan, so we are happy with him," said the Irishman.

"I was very happy with his run at Listowel. A lot of my horses were very sick last year, but I think they are over that now because I have a lot of point-to-pointers and they are winning every week, so I think they are back to form.

"It looks like it is going to be a very good race with tough opposition, but we will have a go.

"I don't have any concerns about his jumping. In my opinion, they don't go fast enough for him and obviously that won't happen in Cheltenham. The faster they go, the better he will jump.

"The uphill finish at Cheltenham will suit and hopefully he is on a nice mark, so we will see how he gets on."

Ex-Pipe student Johnny Farrelly was working with Kevin Bishop last season, overseeing the dramatic progress of Battle Group.

Farrelly, now a trainer in his own right, said: "He seems in good form, but it is going to be hard for him off 150 having his first run back.

"When you are rated as high as that, there's only so many races you can run in and if he has got a rating good enough to run in races like this, you'd be daft not to.

"He should run well, but it is very competitive and I'd be pleased if he can get in the first five or six."

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