OLD McDonald stung the bookies for a tidy sum when landing a gamble for Spancilhill owner-trainer Noel Glynn in the opening two-mile, three-furlong Irish Stallion Owners maiden hurdle at Naas last Saturday.
A market springer from a very generous 12/1 into 8/1, Old McDonald was always travelling with ease under Robbie Power on the raid-sodden ground at the Kildare track and turning off the home bend, the powerfully built son of King’s Theatre moved up to launch his challenge.
Two out, Old McDonald hit the front and while a clumsy leap at the final flight didn’t help matters, nothing was coming from behind in this 25-runner contest to trouble the leader as he galloped on relentlessly, passing the post in splendid isolation four and a half back in front of Noel Meade’s 3/1 shot Jetson.
A non-runner, when road conditions prevented his connections from getting there, at Leopardstown the previous Sunday, Old McDonald was mightily impressive on this occasion, earning an immediate 20/1 quote for the Neptune Investments Novice Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in six weeks time.
The winner of a Ludlow bumper in December ’09 under Barry Geraghty, this now six-year-old is held in very esteem by his owner and his assistant at his Durra House yard, Grand National-winning jockey Jason Titley.
Glynn, whose decision of late to concentrate on quality rather than quantity is paying off big-time, declared, “I have always said that Old McDonald is the best horse I’ve ever had or ever will have. He’s a real star in the making and would have been even more impressive on better ground. Robbie (Power) was very pleased with him and said he even got there too soon as he was just idling in front.”
Outlining where the gambled-on winner, who was purchased as a three-year-old in France, may turn up next, Glynn continued, “We have him entered in the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on Hennessy Gold Cup (February 6) and he might go there. If not, we’ll find a winners of one somewhere for him in a couple of weeks time and then on to Cheltenham. While the Neptune is a race that would suit, he could also go for Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle over three miles as the longer trip would be perfect for him. We’ll make a final decision on that nearer the time.”
HAVING drawn a blank over the first two Sundays of the New Year, seven-time champion jockey Derek O’Connor registered his first point-to-point winner of 2011 when taking the six-year-old geldings’ maiden aboard the John Costello’s Back In Focus at last Sunday’s Scarteen Hunt meeting at Kilfeacle, County Tipperary.
A good second at Dromahane before Christmas, Back In Focus (5/2) turned in a very impressive effort here when surging clear from two out to beat the Andy Slattery-trained Ballyvoneen by 12 lengths.
The winner may well turn up at Belharbour in two weeks time, according to his Newmarket-on-Fergus owner/trainer, who said, “This is a good horse. I bought him after he was led out unsold at the sales and his dam, Dun Belle, won five races and was third in an Irish Hennessey behind Doran’s Pride. He might go for a winners’ race at the County Clare meeting before going inside the rails after that.”
O’Connor, whose main championship rival Jamie Codd rode three winners at Sunday’s Tinahely, County Wicklow meeting to leave him just two adrift of the Tubber rider (26-24) at the head of the jockeys’ table, was expected to add to his tally aboard his brother Paurick’s odds-on shot, Tyrone Golden Rain (4/5F), in the open lightweight.
The seven-year-old, who had won his two autumn starts with consummate ease, had to give best on this occasion, however, to old stager King Johns Castle, who rolled back the years under John Thomas McNamara.
This duo fought out a terrific battle over the final few fences, with the teak-tough King Johns Castle, who was bred in Quin by John O’Neill, finding that little bit more on the uphill climb to the line to score by half a length.
“That was what you’d call a real race,” said Enda Bolger, who now has care of the former Arthur Moore-trained 2008 Aintree Grand National runner-up for leading owner JP McManus.
While fans of Cheltenham-bound Tyrone Golden Rain will be disappointed he was beaten, it was, nevertheless, a good run by the son of Rainwatch, whose next outing will be in a Hunter Chase at Clonmel early next month.
Long Run reigns
on Kauto’s party
KAUTO Star’s bid to rewrite history by winning the rearranged King George V1 Chase for a record-breaking fifth time in-a-row came unstuck at Kempton on Saturday as Paul Nicholls’ star chaser could only manage third behind new-kid-on-the-block, Long Run.
Never at any stage in Saturday’s race at the London track did the Tony McCoy-ridden Kauto Star look like he was going to do it and it was a testament to his bravery that he stayed on well to fill third, having almost taken the second-last from the roots when struggling to get into contention.
Saturday was very much a day for the younger brigade with Long Run, who won the Feltham Chase as a novice just over 12 months earlier, really announcing his arrival on the big stage with a superb display under his amateur partner, Sam Waley-Cohen.
Jumping for fun all through, Long Run showed his liking for this course and led home a notable 1-2 for trainer Nicky Henderson when beating stable companion Riverside Theatre.
Obviously, Long Run will now be mentioned as a Cheltenham Gold Cup contender on the back of this exciting effort but it must be remembered that he disappointed last season when down the field when well fancied for the RSA Chase and the difference between the undulations of Prestbury Park and the relatively easy flat terrain at Kempton must also be borne in mind.
What now of Kauto Star? While he turned 11 on New Year’s Day and cannot go on forever, Saturday’s below-par showing has left Paul Nicholls scratching his head. Going into the race, the Ditcheat handler suggested his dual-Gold Cup winner was in great form but during the past week it has emerged that he may have burst a blood vessel (for the first time) during the race, which would account for his lacklustre display. In any case, Kauto Star will head to Cheltenham on March 18 to have another crack at chasing’s Blue Riband.
Champion hurdler Binocular thrilled his supporters when bouncing back to form with an authoritative success in the reconvened Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle.
Tony McCoy’s mount is top-class at his best and he really threw down the gauntlet to his rivals when sweeping past the front-running Overturn at the penultimate flight, drawing away from there to beat that rival by three and three-quarter lengths.
The Contender Hurdle at Sandown will be next for JP McManus’ star hurdler with a return to the Cotswolds in March to defend his crown the ultimate target.
A good day for the Henderson team saw him add four more races to his pair of Grade 1 wins, making it an afternoon to remember for the Seven Barrows handler, whose horses are running out of their skin at present.
On the home front, jumping fans are in for a treat on Sunday with a cracking card in store at Leopardstown, where the BHP Irish Champion Hurdle has attracted a top-class field.
The latest clash of Willie Mullins’ smart timber-topper Hurricane Fly and Solwhit from the Charles Byrnes yard (the score currently stands 3-1 in favour of Hurricane Fly) is sure to have fans flocking to the Foxrock track, while the eagerly-awaited seasonal reappearance of Philip Fenton’s stable star Dunguib and the presence of top mare Voler La Vedette will also add spice to this Grade 1 €110,000 two-mile test.