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A whole host of interesting runners are set to line up in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday but one name sticks out like a sore thumb.
Lalor, who was recently transferred to Paul Nicholls’ yard after pulling up on his final two starts for Kayley Woollacott at the tail end of last season, has failed to score since landing the Arkle Trophy Trial Novices’ Chase at the November Meeting in 2018.
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The nine-year-old bay gelding was the subject of discussion on a special episode of our From The Horse’s Mouth podcast as we let listeners fire in the questions for our brains trust of Ruby Walsh, Frank Hickey and Paddy Power himself to answer.
One listener asked if saddling Lalor to victory in Saturday’s Grade 3 handicap chase would count among Nicholls’ finest training achievements to date and that inspired our gang to reminisce about some of the Ditcheat trainer’s big winners over the years.
Ruby, who rode the likes of Kauto Star and Big Buck’s for Nicholls, was quick to reel off highlights from the past and explained why Lalor has plenty in his favour going into the Paddy Power Gold Cup.
Our resident jockey-turned-pundit said: “Having the balls to bring Kauto Star back after he was pulled up at Punchestown and having him primed to beat Long Run in the Betfair Chase [in 2011] was incredible. There’s a lot of training performances but managing to win a Champion Chase, Tingle Creek and Clarence House with Dodging Bullets [in the 2014/15 season] was an incredible piece of training.
“Winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup with Lalor is something Paul Nicholls is definitely capable of doing. A new yard, new training regime and Nicholls will be as aware of the fact he’s on a good mark every bit as the rest of us and he will have him primed for the day. He targets a race and he doesn’t miss very often.”
Paddy’s trader Frank Hickey is disappointed that Lalor failed to build on early performances but thinks Saturday’s handicap is the perfect opportunity to get his career back on track.
He said: “Lalor was just touched off by Cepage and Spiritofthegames the last time we saw him at Cheltenham nearly two years ago. It would be a massive achievement but he’s on a fair mark. You’d give him a chance. He’s an old favourite of mine but he didn’t live up to be as good as I thought he’d be. You’d have to be a small bit interested in him for this weekend.”
Our man Frank doesn’t believe victory for Lalor in the Paddy Power Gold Cup would count as one of Nicholls’ greatest ever training performances, however.
“It would be good but I would still think Denman winning the Hennessy Gold Cup [in 2009] off 174 on his reappearance off the back of a heavy fall at Aintree was incredible,” he said.
Top dog Paddy’s also far from sold on the idea that Lalor winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup would rank up there with Nicholls’ greatest feats.
“It would be an amazing achievement but it’s not quite as sexy as getting Kauto Star to win 7,000 King Georges or whatever he won in the end, dragging the longevity out of some of those brilliant horses and the way he just dominated,” Paddy said. “The fact that Nicholls stayed utterly dominant in a certain type of race for quite a period of time and he seemed to have one after the other of these really good horses so it can’t just have been luck, they were some of his great training performances.
“This could be more satisfying to him but it won’t be quite as sexy as those in the past.”
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