NOW that the dust has settled on last week’s Cheltenham’s Festival, it is time to look back at the fantastic meeting that was, thankfully, sprinkled with a good deal of success for representatives from the Banner County.
Without doubt, the victory of A New Story in Tuesday’s Glenfarclas Cross-County Chase was the highlight from a local point of view and his success was very much deserved as the now 12-year-old has been a model of consistency for his Ennis owners, Christy Guerin and Sean Moran, who make up the victorious Storey’s Over Syndicate.
Sent off at 25/1, A New Story was by no means ignored in the market having been as high as 50/1 at one stage and the betting shops in the Ennis area were reported to be hard-hit with a flurry of bets on the successful son of Fourstars Allstar.
Fourth over hurdles to his stable companion, Dancing Tornado at Naas just nine days earlier, A New Story, trained in Patrickswell by Michael Hourigan, travelled like a dream throughout this three-mile, seven-furlong contest under his rookie Cork-born pilot Adrian Heskin.
Turning into the home straight with two fences to jump, A New Story was going better than anything around him and, once safely over the last, Heskin, who is surely a star of the future, just pushed his mount clear to beat runner-up L’Ami by two-and-a-half lengths.
Sean Moran and Christy Guerin were proud men as they led their charge into the hallowed winner’s enclosure amid scenes of great jubilation. They were mobbed by well-wishers as they acknowledged the huge crowd that awaited their arrival at the number one berth where shouts of ‘Up The Banner’ loudly rang out.
It was a great day for the pair who have had some fun with this horse since he first ran in their colours in a point-to-point at Askeaton in the early weeks of 2003, not to mention the fact that he has amassed over €220,000 in prize-money in the interim.
In the form of his life at present, A New Story’s next assignment will be in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday and, having been allocated a nice mark of 10 stone when the weights for this three-and-a-quarter-mile event were revealed earlier this week, A New Story, who will be running in the race for the fifth consecutive year, must go there with every chance.
While it was joy for the connections of A New Story, it was a different tale for Spancilhill owner/trainer Noel Glynn, who was left rueing what might have been after his 13/2 shot Becauseicouldntsee came so agonisingly close to landing Wednesday’s opening National Hunt Chase.
Nina Carberry had the mount on this recent Fairyhouse winner and, having been left in the lead when Gentle Ranger fell four out, the pair looked set for victory when heading towards the second-last full of running.
Katie Walsh had other ideas, however, and galvanising her Ferdy Murphy-trained mount, Poker De Sivola (14/1), she closed with every stride before edging clear in the shadows of the post to relegate Becauseicouldntsee into second, just two lengths separating the pair after what was one of the best finishes of the entire week.
This was a heroic effort by Becauseicouldntsee, whose cause certainly wasn’t helped by the fact that, having spread a plate at the start, he completed the entire four-mile trip minus a front shoe.
Glynn’s pre-race confidence was fully justified, however and, despite the fact that he is entered for the Irish National at Fairyhouse over Easter, Becauseicouldntsee is more likely to be let off for a summer’s grass before returning in the autumn with a crack at something like the Kerry National at Listowel in mind.
Cheltenham is seen as very much a ‘horses for courses’ track and Powerstation, trained in Cullen, County Tipperary by Eamon O’Connell, certainly endorsed that theory when running a blinder for his owners, the Fat Frog Syndicate which are based around the ESB power station in Ardnacrusha and include Clarecastle bookmaker Neil Casey, in Thursday’s World Hurdle.
Powerstation, who had been placed five times at this venue prior to last week’s event, really comes alive at Prestbury Park and the 33/1 shot bounced right back to his best under Andrew McNamara when coming from off the pace to grab third place and his share of the minor money.
Bookies clean up as favourites flop
WHEN Irish ‘Banker’ Dunguib could only manage third in Cheltenham’s opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last Tuesday, it set the tone for a tough week for punters’ at the Gloustershire track.
Held up as a ‘good thing’ due to his unbeaten preparation over hurdles, Dunguib ran an extraordinary race. Brian O’Connell held the 4/5 favourite up well off the pace in the early stages, while also electing to take his mount around the wide outside in an attempt to give the seven-year-old a good view of his hurdles.
That strategy appeared to backfire, however, as eventual winner Menorah kicked for home on the inside approaching two out. Richard Johnson seemed to steal the race here and while Tony McCoy produced the well-fancied Get Me Out Of Here with a late surge, he could not get to the winner who held on to score by a head.
Dunguib, who seemed to be caught flat-footed by Menorah’s second-last flight manoeuvre, plugged on without quickening to fill third less than two lengths adrift.
There has been criticism from some quarters of O’Connell’s handling of the red-hot favourite, but it may well be that it was the tactics employed that beat him as taking the scenic route in a contest as competitive as this always leaves one vulnerable.
Just over half an hour later, Sizing Europe (6/1) drew first blood for the Irish when storming to victory for trainer Henry De Bromhead and jockey Andrew Lynch in the Ankle, while A New Story in the Cross Country and Willie Mullins’ classy mare, Quevega, under a confident ride from Ruby Walsh, made it three wins on the opening day for the visitors when registering back-to-back victories in the concluding David Nicholson mares’ race.
Tuesday’s feature was the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle where leading owner JP McManus was celebrating after his 9/1 shot, Binocular, scored under champion jockey Tony McCoy.
Charles Byrnes was disappointed by the below-par effort of Solwhit (finished sixth) in the Champion Hurdle, but the Limerick handler had swift compensation when sending out the Michael O’Leary-owned Weapon’s Amnesty to claim Wednesday’s RSA Chase. Davy Russell gave the 10/1 shot a powerful ride as he sent the seven-year-old to the front two out and the pair never flinched when passing the post in front of runner-up Burton Port.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase also crossed the Irish Sea with Big Zeb (10/1), trained in County Wexford by Colm Murphy and ridden by Barry Geraghty, turning in an excellent round of jumping to beat fellow Irish-trained Forpaddydeplasterer by six lengths.
Thursday turned out to be a blank day for the Irish with Big Buck’s the highlight as he stormed to successive victories in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. Ruby Walsh oozed confidence aboard Paul Nicholls’ runner and the 5/6 favourite was full value for his three-and-a-half-length verdict over runner-up Time For Rupert.
Tony McCoy’s efforts aboard all-the-way winner Alberta’s Run in the Ryanair Chase must be a serious contender for rider of the week as the multiple champion just kept pouring it on as he galvanised the Jonjo O’Neill-trained son of Accordion to a four-and-a-half-length win over Poquelin.
Friday’s totesport Gold Cup was billed as the decider between Kauto Star and Denman but that script never materialised as 7/1 shot, Imperial Commander, upset the party.
Kauto Star went off a well-backed 8/11 favourite to land his third Gold Cup but, having hit an unmerciful clout on fence number eight, the market-leader was well held when parting company with Ruby Walsh at the fourth last fence.
Denman appeared as if he was going to regain the title when leading off the home bend but Galway jockey Paddy Brennan was in his slipstream and forced course specialist Imperial Commander clear from two out to beat Tony McCoy’s mount by seven lengths.
This was a fantastic day for Brennan and trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who trains quite close to the track. It was also a victory for the Irish point-to-point field as Imperial Commander was yet another Gold Cup winner who started his career between the flags having landed his maiden at Summerhill as a five-year-old.
Gold Cup day also proved memorable for Craughwell, County Galway trainer Paul Gilligan who saddled his first festival winner as Bertie’s Dream sprang a 33/1 shock in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. Hard-working Gilligan is well-known to racing fans in this county and Bertie’s Dream, who was given a peach of a ride by Andrew Lynch, fully merited his success.
Katie Walsh, having scored earlier in the week aboard Poker De Sivola, rounded off a fantastic meeting for the Kildare amateur when punching 20/1 shot, Thousand Stars from the Willie Mullins yard, clear in the closing stages to land the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle, thus bringing the Irish tally for meeting to seven winners.