Quito De la Roque, currently on offer at around 25/1 with most firms for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, will have a major say in his own destiny this season with his performance in the Irish Hennessey Gold Cup at Leopardstown on February 12 set to determine whether or not he will bid for the blue riband event, writes Elliot Slater.
Colm Murphy, trainer of the talented eight-year-old, made it clear that he was disappointed with the third place finish of his charge in the Grade 1 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas fixture, the gelded son of Saint Des Saint having been sent off a warm 13/8 favourite but in the end having no answer to Jonjo O’Neill’s Synchronised who beat him by 11-lengths into third place. Murphy has little explanation for that somewhat lack lustre effort but has been encouraged by the way the winner of the Grade 1 JNwine.com Chase at Down Royal earlier this season has come out of the Lexus-sponsored event. Those on the hunt for Cheltenham tips will have been keeping an eye on him.
Murphy anticipates seeing a very different Quito De La Roque in the Hennessey where a good performance would almost certainly mean the green light will be given to his bid for glory at Cheltenham against top notchers Long Run and Kauto Star. After winning impressively at Navan in February of last year Murphy’s charge was expected to head to Cheltenham for the RSA Chase but connections chose to bypass that meeting and wait for Aintree, a move that proved perfectly judged as the Gigginstown Stud-owned chaser landed the Grade 2 John Smith’s Mildmay Novices Chase in brave fashion, defeating Sarando by a neck. Anyone looking ahead to Betfair Cheltenham 2012 will have been impressed.
Stepping up to Grade 1 company at Punchestown a month later, Quito de La Roque completed a seasonal four-timer by slamming old rival Western Charmer to land the Growise Champion Novice Chase by 14 lengths and built on that win by scoring first time out this season at Down Royal, beating Champion Chase winner Sizing Europe by length-and-a-quarter.