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Good ground key to Hewick's Gold Cup hopes

John ‘Shark’ Hanlon is praying for good ground ahead of next month’s Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, as his King George hero Hewick prepares to take on defending champion Galopin Des Champs.

Hewick took a crashing fall two out in his first taste of the Gold Cup last year, with Galopin Des Champs carrying on up the hill for a memorably impressive victory.

Willie Mullins’ charge has since looked imperious when winning at Leopardstown this season, firstly in the Savills Chase at Christmas and then when bettering chief blue riband rival Fastorslow for his second Irish Gold Cup during the Dublin Racing Festival.

However, Hewick has also gone from strength to strength and following a career best to win the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, Hanlon is now keen to try to exploit a possible chink in Galopin Des Champ’s armour on a sounder surface at Prestbury Park.

He said: “It is beginning to get exciting times and I love to see that sun coming out, which I want to see in England more at the minute than I want to see over here.

“The weather is what’s most important to him. It was soft ground last year and I want that soft ground out of there this year.

“Galopin Des Champs is a very good horse and he’s won on soft ground a couple

of times this year and has looked very good on it.

"But I would love to meet him on good ground. Maybe if he is as good then he will win, but I just think on proper good ground, he might not be as good as he is on soft and heavy ground.

“The horse is in really good form and he came out of the King George very well. He will probably go and do a bit of work now in Naas on Wednesday in a schooling bumper and that’s the route we went down before the King George.”

Hewick is a best priced 16-1 for Gold Cup glory, but Hanlon is predicting an open feel to the race this time around and is confident his contender is worth his place in the line-up.

“There’s more than one horse in the race, every horse is there to be looked at,” he continued.

“You don’t ever duck away from one horse or a challenge and if you have a horse good enough, there is no problem doing that.

“Shishkin won over the weekend and he looked quite good, but the horse who was second to him was only a 150-rated horse and he didn’t run away from him.

“It’s a good race, it is always a good race. There’s more than two or three in it and there will be probably 10 horses in it and any of those 10 horses can win.”

Hanlon has always embraced his underdog status,

but he is alive to the possibility of interest in the sport dimming if only a handful of yards house all the leading contenders.

He said: “The big problem in Ireland anyway, and the English people can see it when Willie went over with Fun Fun Fun yesterday, is he wins everything.

“He has the owners to buy those horses. If a good horse comes up for sale tomorrow morning, he’s gone to Willie Mullins because Willie has the customers. Fair dues to him because he started with nothing and now has the men to buy them, but I think England and Ireland are feeling the pinch a bit with it because a lot of these owners just go to Willie now.

“This is nothing against Willie or Gordon Elliott or anyone, but I think the smaller people in the game need looking after. Because if you haven’t got the smaller lads then you are going to have races every week with five runners and people will get bored.

“Every small trainer is able to train, they just haven’t got the owners able to compete with the likes of Willie. There is a bundle of trainers taking over and I don’t think it is good for racing.”

Mullins’ dominance in Irish racing was exemplified at the Dublin Racing Festival when he won each of the eight Grade Ones at the meeting, with one contest ending up a match between two Closutton runners.

Hanlon added: “The Dublin Racing Festival was great but without the two big handicaps (on each card), there wouldn’t have been 30 runners on either day. The two big handicaps were full and there was more excitement over the handicaps than there was over the Grade Ones.

“The Grade Ones and Grade Twos are lovely, but they are for three or four people and they need to look beyond that to see how they are going to get the people back going racing.

“The Dublin Racing Festival is a great meeting and on the Saturday you had a huge crowd and on Sunday an OK crowd. But if you took the English people out of it on the Sunday, there wouldn’t be too many in.

“If it wasn’t for the cost of travelling horses over to England, then I would run horses over there every week.

“You can say I’m running away from Willie, I don’t care, but there is a better chance of winning and England is a big area and you can go to the top or the bottom and you are not competing with Willie and Gordon every day.”



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