The coursing season draws to a close this weekend with the eagerly anticipated JP McManus Irish Cup. It’s a meeting that allows us to see the current crop of pups make the step up into All Age company for the first time and ties together much of what we’ve seen this year. Just what can we expect?
Before we go on I should make a point of saying that while I don’t like criticising bookmakers, especially in our game, I’m a little disappointed with the ante-post prices on offer. I can understand bookmakers taking some precautions in pricing up the Derby or Oaks, where the form simple isn’t there. Apart from one or two dogs that’s not the case in the Irish Cup. I’d certainly like to see a little more value.
In the top quarter one dog that the books are more than happy to take on is three time Cup winner this year Skellig Way. Way’s only defeat this year came in a just up defeat in the Champion Stakes semi-final having won the Corn na Feile All Age and the Stephen Fuller Memorial Cup in Kilflynn already this season. He’s available at a best priced 16-1, although rumours of an injury sustained in Clonmel might help explain some of the bookmakers confidence in taking him on. Crafty Boohoo provides tricky opposition but if sound he’s a dog you’d imagine Skellig could beat.
The top 8 is a fairly strong section of the draw with Amys Lotto, narrowly beaten in the other Champion Stakes semi-final while Wilton Magic has shown his best form on this field. The potential second round meeting between Wilton and Skellig should be one to savour however, Hi Black Jack showed enough quality at Clonmel to make you think he could give Wilton problems.
Another pup of interest in this half is Fleetwood Nova who gave a very good showing in the first two rounds in Clonmel before running unsighted in the third round cost him a quarter final place (if memory serves me right). If a pup is to spring from the pack in this quarter it could be him.
The bottom half of this quarter doesn’t look quite as competitive on paper and connections of last years beaten finalist Intacta Banba will fancy there chances of at least another run to the last 8. Connections when interview in last weeks Sporting Press noted that he’d injuries during the course of last season. If he’s sound he’s one that I’ve plenty of respect for.
Another fascinating buckle in this quarter is the meeting of Questions and Sturdyandstaunch. Questions has a very similar profile to last year’s winner Carricktobin Lad in that he only made one appearance this season, in his case winning the Kingdom Cup just after Christmas. If anything he’s less exposed than last year’s winner having only appeared once last season. He meets Sturdyandstaunch who was beaten by semi-finalist Fingal Master in Clonmel having been well fancied for success. His Trial Stake form was impressive and I wouldn’t bet against an improved showing here.
The second quarter contains a number of fancied runners and a couple more than capable of spring a surprise. The standout name in the top half of the quarter is Champion Stakes winner Corriga Rebel. Corriga’s performance while something of a shock was thoroughly deserved and I’m not sure he’s gotten the credit due following his win in Powerstown. He’s unbeaten this year and while not putting up fancy times in Cups he always seems to do enough to win. He’ll meet his predecessor as Champion Stakes winner, Hopes And Dreams in the opening round and he’ll certainly be no push over.
King Rooney, In Cahoots and Barefoot Magnus will make the Corriga’s path to the last eight difficult. In Cahoots in particular won on his only outing this season and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Newinn Wonder is a dog that might just be the fastest in training but for me he’s proven a little unreliable. Having been the fastest dog in the opening round of the Derby last year, he crashed out in the third round. He then lost in the second round of the Irish Cup last year. There’s no doubt about his pace, I’m just not sure I could back him at 6-1.
Ashwood James might well be the ‘dark horse’ in this quarter and he’s one that I fancy to have a big meeting (kiss of death there!) He always had plenty of raw pace but he’s shown himself to have added some reliability this year. Kingdom Call could prove a tricky opponent having reached the final in Rathkeale in his last outing and he won here last year in the Irish Purse.
The third quarter of the draw has drawn plenty of attention most notably the mouth watering first round clash of Man Of War and Eshwary Leader. Man Of War was many people’s pick for the Champion Stakes before he was withdrawn before the second round. Eshwary leader was the favourite for the Derby before coursing on the opening day of the National Meeting and seemed to justify the hype leading Go Conquer well before running unsighted. He goes to Limerick again favourite but with plenty to do to claim the silverware.
The winner of this buckle could well meet holder Carricktobin Lad in the second round. He has enjoyed a similar path to Limerick as last season and shouldn’t be overlooked. Wood Dynamo and Needham Simple are two pups who can’t be overlooked. Wood Dynamo was impressive in the first round but got a heavy hunt before losing out to Kingsmill Rover. Simple was well fancied in the Derby but crashed out in the opening round to Light Duty. Both will be certainly worth watching.
The bottom half of the quarter isn’t quite as hot but it’s competitive none the less with Champion Stakes qualifiers Latest Trick, Skellig Sunrise and Grayacre Star all in with real chances. Perhaps the dog to beat here could be Corn na Feile winner Needham Danger although he’s not guaranteed to get it all his own way against Power Of Peace.
This quarter is another with some cracking opening round buckles down for decision. The standout one here, and there are a few, is the meeting of Kingsmill Rover and Mr Blonde. Kingsmill had impressed in the second round of the Derby but got a hard hunt and lost out in the third round. He meets Mr Blonde who has improved markedly this year although he was well beaten in the final of the Champion Stakes. It’s certainly a fascinating clash of the puppy generation against their older counterparts.
Also there is the 2012 Corn na Feile winner, Tilford Tom, a dog who impressed many when winning in Listowel this year. He has a difficult opening round buckle with Phoenix Frankel, a dog who can be exceptional on his day.
Yippee Kiyay has always struck me as the kind of dog who would run well at the meeting and he’d be one to be wary of, while Sir Harvey is another with a profile not unlike Carricktobin Lad’s last year. Any of the bottom four could feature at their best. Dale Pinocchio had tremendous misfortune to be flagged out here last year, while Bridewell Kieran mightn’t have the powers of old but he showed in Tubbercurry he could still be a force at this level. Make Peace has plenty of pace but has a tricky opener against Figaro who is more than capable of a big run. Make Peace isn’t the most reliable but he’s capable of beating just about every dog on the card on his day.