1pt win Minella Rocco @6/1, 16:00 Leopardstown, Sunday

What a competitive betting heat we have for the Irish Gold Cup this year, with the winner of the last two renewals, Carlingford Lough, third in the betting at 9/2.

He’s been campaigned specifically for a hat-trick bid this season and has to go close, but the race rather fell apart last season with Valseur Lido departing at the final flight and Road To Riches nowhere near his best.

That’s not to say he wouldn’t have beaten Valseur Lido, and later that season any doubts around the strength of the form were rather erased when he beat Djakadam, Cue Card and Don Poli in the Punchestown Gold Cup.

That last run does come with a clear caveat in that it was the end of a long, hard season for all those named – Cue Card in particular ran nothing like his best.

Aged 11, I’m naturally cautious of backing Carlingford Lough here, particularly with us not being short of options to take him on with.

Don Poli is favourite and that’s probably deserved, given he ran so well in the Lexus and has won plenty of times at this level in the past.

3/1 is a nice enough price for him, but I’m not so keen given I have doubts about the strength of that run in the Lexus – Djakadam definitely didn’t look to have run his race and the winner, Outlander, hadn’t really made a mark in this grade prior to that.

In the same colours, Road To Riches’s form is in decline now and he’s never looked the same horse since that brilliant third in Coneygree’s gruelling Gold Cup.

Perhaps it’s Empire Of Dirt, also owned by Gigginstown, who has the best chance of their trio after some emphatic wins in handicaps last year.

He’s very unexposed at this level and looks capable of causing an upset, however the betting suggests it would hardly be one and, win or lose, 4/1 looks way too short.

The one I can’t help but side with is MINELLA ROCCO, who last year at the Cheltenham Festival beat subsequent Hennessy, Welsh National and yesterday’s Denman Chase winner Native River, who is currently the second favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

While Native River has been paying handsome compliments to that form all season, Minella Rocco has only raced twice, the last time when a nasty final fence faller when looking likely to give the late, great Many Clouds something to think about at Aintree.

Second in that race was Le Mercurey, who ran a blinder behind Native River yesterday at Newbury, so with Many Clouds going on to beat Gold Cup favourite Thistlecrack at Cheltenham there’s a very strong look to the form.

He’s hardly screaming to be backed at 6/1 but I’m keen to be on side, given he stays forever and his suspect jumping is the only obvious negative.

I’m not sure what to make of Sizing John’s short price in this race – he’s 9/2 for his first go at this trip and he’s getting backed so there must be some stable confidence behind him.

With stamina not guaranteed and dour stayers like Don Poli and Minella Rocco in opposition it’s difficult to fancy his chances.

1pt win Minella Rocco @6/1, 16:00 Leopardstown, Sunday

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