Late call on Last Instalment
Trainer Philip Fenton has confirmed Last Instalment has made his way to England, but that a decision on his participation in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup unlikely to be made until the middle of next week at the earliest.
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The Gigginstown House Stud-owned nine-year-old has returned from a near two-year absence seemingly better than ever judged by his brilliant display in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown last month.
He is among the leading contenders for the Gold Cup on Friday, but connections have repeatedly stated he will only run if ground conditions are on the easy side due to the leg problems which kept him off the track for so long.
Fenton said: "He's heading over on Sunday afternoon and a decision will be made over there later in the week.
"We'll see how the ground is riding and we'll have the course walked a couple of times.
"We'll be making a decision as late as possible. We'll hope there might be a bit of frost to keep a bit of moisture in the ground.
"The horse is in good shape, so we'll see what happens."
Michael O'Leary, owner of the Gigginstown horse, said that he might even be happy to leave him in the race and make a final decision on Friday morning.
He told At The Races: "If the word soft is in the going description, he'll run. If there's any firm, he won't run. If it's good, we'll have to make a decision.
"The issue is his legs, he's done two tendons and we wouldn't risk him on good to fast ground.
"It will be a judgement call, he will probably certainly be declared and we might even not make a decision until Friday morning. We won't risk him, he's too good and could do very well here next winter now we have got him back."
O'Leary added that First Lieutenant could be switched from the Ryanair Chase to the Gold Cup in the absence of Last Instalment, or that "we might decide to leave it and wait for Aintree". Another Gigginstown runner, Rathlin, also remains a possible starter in the Ryanair Chase.
Last Instalment is one of three intended Festival runners for Fenton, with Coral Cup top weight Dunguib set for his fourth visit to Prestbury Park.
Winner of the 2009 Champion Bumper, third in the 2010 Supreme Novices' Hurdle and eighth in the Champion Hurdle a year later, the 11-year-old spent almost three years on the sidelines until returning in January, when an encouraging third at Naas.
Dunguib then turned in an impressive display to take the Boyne Hurdle at Navan by six lengths.
Fenton said: "He's on-song and on target.
"He's rated 154 over there (England) and he's 3lb higher at home, so we'll see what happens.
"This is the right race for him and this is probably his last chance of running in Cheltenham, being an 11-year-old.
"He's in good shape and we're hoping for the best."
Fenton's third Festival challenger is Champion Bumper contender Value At Risk.