Our Duke can bring Cheltenham Gold Cup home to the heart of Laois

Owner-breeders believer the heavy ground gives their charge a big chance

The excitement is palpable ahead of Friday's Cheltenham Gold Cup in which Our Duke will fly the flag for Laois when he takes to the track at Prestbury Park.

The most prestigious event in the national hunt horse racing calendar is taking on an extra special resonance this year with the Camross / Coolrain area of Laois with the horse at third favourite in the Cheltenham centrpeice.

Laois, unlike neighbouring Tipperary, Kildare and Carlow, is not famed for its horse breeding or training heritage, so the emergence of Our Duke is somewhat remarkable. The horse was born and bred 'at altitude' in the heart of the Slieve Bloom Mountains where hurling is king.

While the horse 'summers' in Kildare, he is now in the expert hands of trainer Jessica Harrington.

It represents a huge achievement for the Cooper family syndicate who own the horse and trainer, Harrington. The Coopers also bred the horse which won the Irish Grand National in style at Fairyhouse in 2017.

The heavy going at Cheltenham this week could mean a horse that has staying pedigree and no shortage of class could be the one to bring home the blue riband trophy which was won by stablemate Sizing John in 2017.

Jockey, Robbie Power is back on Our Duke, after last year's Gold Cup champion was pulled out of the race last week with injury.

“It's great to be going with a live contender,” said Sloane Cooper. “Jessica Harrington is very happy with him. She says that he is as good as we can get him.

“He is in with a great chance and he has travelled on soft ground before.

“We had a dream season with him last year. This year was not as good and when he had to have the back operation I thought he would be out the whole year.

“However, Jessica was adamant she would have him back.

“At the Red Mills Chase in Gowran last month he had a nice battle uphill against Presenting Percy,” noted Sloane.

Billy Cooper, who lives in Clonbrock on the Kildare-Offaly border, is also part of the syndicate.

“He’s as well prepared as possible thanks to (trainer) Jessica Harrington; He’s in great order and he’s getting the boat this afternoon from Dublin to Holyhead. I’ll be very disappointed if he’s not in the first four,” Billy said.

Will you back him?

“I will, each way anyway.”

And the absence of the last year’s winner Sizing John from the field doesn’t alter his opinion

“I’d fancy Our Duke above Sizing John; I think he’s a better horse.”

The Coopers travelled midweek, with Sloane's son, Joe flying in from Australia for the occasion.

They are joined in the Cotswolds by a large Laois contingent with groups of friends and neighbours travelling from Coolrain, Borris-in-Ossory and Castletown.

However, Our Duke is not the only Laois interest in this year's Gold Cup. Portlaoise's Parish Priest Monsignor John Byrne is part of a syndicate syndicate that owns 'Total Recall'.

The Willie Mullins trained nine-year-old has been unbeaten in three starts since joining Mullins, landing the Munster National at Limerick and the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury before making the most of a favourable mark over hurdles at the inaugural

Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown earlier this month.

“It would be some finish to have two Laois horses racing in the final length for the Gold Cup,” said Glen Cooper.

There were super celebrations last Spring when the Coopers brought Our Duke home to Laois in 2017 after the Irish National win. Laois County Council staged a reception in his honour.

Dreams would come true if the Gold Cup comes home to Coolrain and Camross in Laois next week.

Whatever happens all involved will hope that Our Duke comes home safe and sound.

Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.

Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.