Hennessy Gold Cup (Grade 1)
Sometimes in the sporting area, the script just writes itself and it was one of those days at Leopardstown on Sunday. Just 24 hours after he announced his imminent retirement from the saddle, A.P. McCoy, in the colours of J.P. McManus, drove the John Kiely-trained Carlingford Lough to a three quarter-length victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup, from Foxrock with last year’s Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere eight lengths back in third.
Carlingford Lough’s win further emphasised the strength in depth of Irish chasing with the last two winners of one of our big handicaps, the Galway Plate, now at the head of the betting for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Looking ahead to the Gold Cup, this was also another endorsement for the form of last year’s RSA Chase.
Smad Place and Sam Winner, both who have run well this season, finished ahead of Carlingford Lough in last year’s top novice event, while two of this year's top chasers Don Cossack and Many Clouds failed to complete.
Carlingford Lough did not jump well that day and appeared to find the distance stretching him (one paced from two out). That remains the question mark for his Gold Cup claims but he will have all the goodwill in the world if McCoy is on board in four weeks’ time.
Lookking forward, Lord Windermere is the horse to take out of the Hennessy. For a horse who is known to idle in front, he was in front very early having travelled well and was sent to the lead at the second last where he produced a fine leap.
Given his record at Cheltenham, at 12/1 there are still less question marks about him than with some of those ahead of him in the betting even if repeat Gold Cup winners have become rare.
The Gold Cup is won by stamina more than class and he has proven that at the last two Festivals.
At only seven years, there must be every possibility that Foxrock will make his mark at Grade 1 level for the next year or two. He remains one of the more progressive young horses in the country - another from last year's novice crop.
Both the Willie Mullins-trained Graham Wylie-owned horses were disappointing and on this running at 11 and 10 respectively, neither On His Own or Boston Bob look likely to take a hand in the Gold Cup finish. First Lieutenant was disappointing and only the Grand National will be his target.
Deloitte Novice Hurdle (Grade 1)
Nichols Canyon staked his claim in no uncertain terms for one of the Cheltenham novice hurdles with an impressive win over quality opposition in the Deloitte, the race which has produced the last two Supreme Novices Hurdle winners in Vautour and Champagne Fever.
A classy horse on the flat for John Gosden when his best run was second in the Group 3 St Simon Stakes on heavy ground, good ground should hold no fears for him though he does show a bit of a round action. He jumped well, but again showed a tendency to stand off a few. He had all his rivals in trouble turning in and galloped on strongly for his second Grade 1 win.
Supreme favourite Douvan’s form is on soft and heavy and on this evidence Nichols Canyon is not short of speed either. Another interesting choice waits Ruby Walsh in whichever race Mullins selects for his winner.
Alvisio Ville (11/10) was a full two sizes bigger than Nichols Canyon and was well backed for the Neptune during the week. He was on the face of it, a bit disappointing in third. However, this was a few levels up from winning a maiden in soft ground at Christmas. He looked more a horse for the future than the present here as the ground quickens up through the spring.
The two Dermot Weld runners were the eyecatchers. Both classy bumpers horses, the better ground brought improved runs from Windsor Park (second) and Silver Concorde in fourth. Windsor Park made a few mistakes and ran on well while Silver Concorde was given a quiet ride. Both have the class to take a hand in the Cheltenham novices.
Identity Thief lost his unbeaten record in tame fashion while McKinley seemed to be out classed although he has had a busy campaign and might need a tougher test of stamina.
Flogas Novice Steeplechase (Grade 1)
Apache Stronghold gained a deserved Grade 1 victory for Noel Meade in the Patricia Hunt colours. Never out of the first two in his four runs over fences, he was typically well ridden in patient Paul Carberry fashion, making his ground from after the second last as Jarry D'Honneur and Le Vent d’Antan made the running and Valseur Lido and Adriana Des Motes challenged wide. There were six in with a shout approaching the last as The Tullow Tank (running his best race in a while) and Jarry D’Honneur began to fade. Le Vent D’Antan crumpled on landing, sadly suffering a fatal injury as the race developed between the favourite Valseur Lido and Apache Stronghold. It was a fine battle between two of the top jockeys at either end of their careers. The experience of Carberry and the strength of Cooper with the former and Apache Stronghold proving just the stronger. Both have strong claims in the JLT Novices. Apache Stronghold’s jumping was a bit sticky at times but he has plenty of experience now for Cheltenham. Valseur Lido lost nothing in defeat and as longer odds than the winner with some bookmakers (10/1) could still turn the tables in a very hot looking renewal of the JLT.
Adriana Des Mottes, getting 7lb from the first two, kept on without threatening them. Her run here also boosted Gilgamboa’s Limerick win at Christmas and he is also interesting for any of the Cheltenham novices.
Shanahan’s Turn has proved disappointing and was pulled up but the one to note was Jarry D’Honneur on just his second start over fences. He made mistakes but only gave way coming to the last and will hold his own in good company.
Gala Retail Spring Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 1)
The juvenile picture remains unclear following this Grade 1 where Kalkir and Vercingetorix were both well fancied. The former seemed to run to his form but found his stable companion, the filly Petite Parisenne to tough in the battle from the last to open the card with a Gigginstown House winner. She has been put in at around 8/1-10/1 for the Triumph but it looks a difficult race to work out. Having been one of the early favourites, Kalkir is now out to 14/1. The Mullins Gowran winner Dicosimo, currently 20/1 in places, might still enter the picture.
Prussian Eagle ran a fine race in third and could be one for the Fred Winter. Vercingetorix was disappointing, never getting involved while Officieux led early but faded early.
REST OF THE CARD
Prince De Beauchene won the Raymond Smith Memorial Hunter Chase in determined fashion and rivals can take a sigh of relief that he won’t be in the line-up at Cheltenham. He made the early running but then let Salsify go on and came back to take charge entering the straight.
On The Fringe was given a patient ride and produced going to the last but was always being held. He has been found out at Cheltenham twice before and will likely find one or two too good again. Salsify produced a satisfactory run on his first run for 409 days and Cheltenham will bring out his strengths. With Oscar Barton sidelined and Mossey Joe unseating early, Salsify still looks our best hope for the Foxhunters.
Potters Point went off a short-priced 1 /2 favourite for the bumper after his previous run when outpointed by fellow Gigginstown House Stud owned Tombstone.
He didn’t get the run of the race that day but there were no excuses here as he was again beaten by one in the same ownership as the Eoin Griffin-trained Archive stepped up on his form of his third behind Identity Thief in November.
Patrick Mullins elected make the running on Potters Point and he again showered a high head carriage when coming under pressure. David Mullins brought Archive with a sustained run in the final two furlongs and although he hung left he stayed on too well for the favourite who now looks a bit expensive at £260,000 given for him at Brightwells.