Quito the latest to swerve Irish Hennessey

Colm Murphy’s Quito De La Roque, the leading Irish hope for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup next month, has surprisingly been taken out of his intended warm-up race in the Grade 1 Irish Hennessey Gold Cup at Leopardstown on February 12 after scoping badly only five days before the contest, writes Elliot Slater.

One of the leading fancies for the prestigious three-mile event, Quito de La Roque had been a solid 5/2 second-favourite in the ante-post book on the race and his absence now means that the Willie Mullins-trained Quel Esprit is likely to start a hot favourite. Murphy reported that his horse had been training well and appeared spot on for the event, but after a routine scope proved unsatisfactory he had no alternative other than to withdraw his smart performer from the contest. Anyone looking for bookmakers with Cheltenham free bets will have been disappointed by his withdrawal.

The absence of last season’s Aintree and Punchestown Festival winner from the line-up for the Leopardstown event has further weakened the line-up coming as it did only hours after another leading contender Jessies Dream was also ruled out by his trainer Gordon Elliott, having failed to work with any enthusiasm in his final training gallop. There is a strong possibility that Jessies Dream, who has yet to race since last season’s Cheltenham Festival, may now miss the rest of the term.

Quito De La Roque on the other hand is very likely to make his way to Cheltenham, but connections are running out of opportunities to give him a prep race prior to attempting to dislodge Long Run and his main challenger Kauto Star in the blue riband contest on March 16. Bookmakers rate Murphy’s charge a general 20/1 shot for the Gold Cup, although this season’s Grade 1 JNwine.com winner can still be backed at 25/1 is still available in places.

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