Cheltenham Festival 2018: Jessica Harrington hopes patient approach pays off with Our Duke in Gold Cup

(From left to right) Sizing John with Kate Harrington, Jessica Harrington, Our Duke and Tracy Piggott

(From left to right) Sizing John with Kate Harrington, Jessica Harrington, Our Duke and Tracy Piggott. (Pic: Courtesy of  Cheltenham Racecourse).

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JESSICA Harrington hopes connections’ patient approach pays dividends with the lightly-raced Irish Grand National winner Our Duke in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 16.

This season’s campaign was initially  hampered when the eight-year-old needed treaent for a kissing spine after beating just one runner home in a Grade 1 at Down Royal on his comeback in November.

The son of Oscar was off the track for more than three months before staying on well to finish fourth in the Grade 1 Irish Gold Cup over three miles at Leopardstown, despite making a significant mistake in running.

Our Duke looked back to his best when landing the two and a half mile Grade 2 Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park on February 17. The victory was his sixth win in a career spanning just 12 starts and a fourth chase win in seven runs over the larger obstacles.

“We have been thinking about the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup for Our Duke since he won the Grade One at Leopardstown last season,” trainer Jessica Harrington revealed at a stable visit organised by Cheltenham racecourse this week.

“The owners said to me that they did not want to go to Cheltenham last season – they wanted to wait and go for the Gold Cup this year.

“He won the Irish Grand National and then had a bad start to the season, after which we discovered the problem of the kissing spine. He came back and looked very good in Gowran the other day.

“He would never have run in Gowran if he hadn’t have made the mistake in Leopardstown because he would have finished out that race under pressure and might have ended up having a hard race. He made the mistake and Robert [Power –  jockey] gave him a chance to recover, then he pinged the last and galloped all the way to the line. In a way, the decision to go to Gowran was easy really because I knew he hadn’t had a hard race.

“I wanted him to run again because has not had a lot of chase starts. He had four last season and three this year. Most horses have that many races in one season – he has done it in two.

“He decided to hoof one fence out of the way in Gowran, but he jumped the last three very well. I think he lacks a bit of concentration when they are not going quickly enough. When they went a good gallop in the Irish Grand National, he never put a foot wrong. Robert says he has a cruising speed and when he is just below that, he doesn’t concentrate.

“He has won around Leopardstown left-handed, the Irish Grand National right-handed and right-handed in Gowran, which is a bit like Cheltenham the other way round as you are going up and down, and he seemed to cope with that fine.

“He does like good ground. He is by Oscar and most of them do like a bit of nice ground. He hated the ground in Gowran which was the other extreme. Good horses are meant to go on all ground.”

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