Wexford trainer Paul Nolan hit the jackpot at Punchestown on Sunday where his 9/4 favourite Joncol showed his potential as a chaser with an impressive success in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase.
Ridden by Craughwell-born rider Alain ‘Squeaky’ Cawley, Joncol went to the head of affairs heading towards three out and made the best of his way home from there to beat runner-up In Compliance by five-and-a-half lengths.
This was Joncol’s biggest success to date, even if the massive six-year-old had his task eased by Barker unshipping Ruby Walsh at halfway and Aran Concerto (who was well beaten at the time) falling at the second last. Winning trainer Nolan, who has care of the successful son of Bob’s Return for Waterford owner Dan Browne was very pleased with his charge.
“We were very happy with our horse going into today’s race and he is much better than he was last season,” he said. “He’s had lots of problems with ulcers but they seem to be under control now.”
Looking further ahead to a possible tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Nolan wasn’t ruling out a showdown with Kauto Star or Denman at Prestbury Park in March.
“You’d have to consider Joncol a Gold Cup contender after that effort, although he still has to show that he is more than a mudlark. He jumps superbly for such a big horse and the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas (for which he is now 3/1 ante-post favourite with most bookmakers) will be his next outing,” said the Enniscorthy handler.
The day before at Navan, Edward O’Grady’s smart recruit Osana continued his Arkle Chase build-up with a fluent success in the two-mile, one-furlong novice chase.
Regular partner Andrew McNamara sent the 2008 Champion Hurdle runner-up into the lead from the drop of the flag and the pair never saw another rival when coming home a dozen lengths in front of Dancing Tornado.
There is no doubt but Osana has huge potential and, while the 2/5 shot didn’t have to come out of second gear to record his latest success, his jumping was impeccable.
A clash with Sizing Europe, River Liane and Captain Cee Bee (who overcame a 600-day lay-off when making a winning debut over fences at Naas last week) in the Bord Na Mona Novice Chase at Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day is next on the cards for Thomas Barr’s seven-year-old.
Dunguib maintained his unbeaten run over timber when running out a very convincing winner of the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Wednesday of last week.
This fixture was rescheduled from the previous Sunday and punters were rewarded with a first-class show from Philip Fenton’s stable star. Last season’s Cheltenham Bumper winner went into this Grade 1 contest having recorded back-to-back victories over hurdles at Galway and Punchestown and confirmed his status at the best two-mile novice hurdler around with another outstanding display.
Brian O’Connell, who was registering his first winner as a professional, settled Dunguib towards the rear over the first few flights. Approaching the home turn, the six-year-old powered to the front en route to seeing off runner-up Some Present. In third, a further 13 lengths back, was Alice Brady’s Call.
There is no doubt this was Dunguib’s stiffest test so far and he came through with flying colours. Speculation in some quarters that Dunguib may take his chance in the Champion Hurdle has seen the presenting gelding quoted a low as 4/1 with a run on some bookmakers’ boards for hurdling’s blue riband, but Fenton was quite firm on the route he has marked out for his exciting prospect.
“The Deloitte and Touche Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown in February is the plan, rather than running him over Christmas. He is not an over-robust horse and he wouldn’t take an awful lot of racing or training,” he said.
“I think novices should stick with novices and there is no need to pitch him against the bigger boys at this stage. Depending on how he gets on in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, there is always next year and then we can train him for the Champion Hurdle,” concluded the former amateur champion.
There was something of a surprise in the Bar One Racing Hatton’s Grace Hurdle with Oscar Dan Dan coming through in the closing stages to score for trainer Tom Mullins and jockey Davy Russell.
The 11/2 shot looked to have it all to do jumping the final flight, but he raised a huge effort close to home when getting up in the final strides to beat Ninetieth Minute by a neck. Favourite Catch Me, who has campaigned over fences, was a big disappointment, finishing a well-beaten fourth under Andrew McNamara.
Pandorama did his followers a favour as Noel Meade’s 9/4 favourite triumphed in good style in the Bar One Racing Drinmore Chase.
A smart type over hurdles last season, Pandorama maintained his unbeaten run over the larger obstacles when, having been pushed clear by Davy Condon three out, he galloped in courageously to see off runner-up Alpha Ridge by seven lengths.
A Novice Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas is next up for Pandorama, with the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in March the long-term target.
On the point-to-point front, Derek O’Connor took his tally for the season to 19 when steering Tout Regulier (5/2-6/4F) to victory in the second division of the five-year-old mares’ maiden at last Sunday’s session in Watergrasshill, Cork.
Trained in Carlow by Willie Murphy, this daughter of Beat All assumed command two out and stuck to her task in good fashion to beat runner-up Maid In Moscow by two lengths.
The pre-Christmas segment of the 2009/10 season comes to a close on Sunday in the east Cork village of Dungourney where the United Hunt will host their fixture.
Nicholls wins fifth Tingle Creek in a row
For the third consecutive Saturday, Ruby Walsh and Paul Nicholls teamed up to land the big race of the afternoon. Following on the success of Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase and Denman in that memorable Hennessy Gold Cup run, Twist Magic went off a well-backed 9/4 favourite to continue the pair’s good form in Sandown’s Tingle Creek Chase.
Taking the bull by the horns, Walsh bounced Twist Magic straight into the lead and, jumping like a buck, he had his four rivals in a spin from a long way out. Heading to the penultimate fence it was clear that Twist Magic was travelling like a winner and he duly delivered when passing the post some 15 lengths in front of Irish raider Forpaddydeplaster, giving champion trainer Nicholls his fifth victory in-a-row in this Grade One two-miler. Well Chief was next home nine lengths away in third, with 15/8 favourite Big Zeb from Colm Murphy’s Wexford yard a major disappointment in fourth.
This was probably a career-best for Twist Magic, who, ironically, would only have been seen as Nicholls’ second-string if Champion chaser Master Minded had not been sidelined with a cracked rib. Nevertheless, Twist Magic is a very good horse in his own right and if he turns up at Cheltenham in this kind of order, he cannot be ruled out whatever the opposition.
Of the others, only the Tony McCoy-partnered Forpaddydeplasterer ran anywhere near his best. Tom Copper’s charge, who beat Kalahari King to claim the Arkle last season, would not be in love with this ground, yet he managed to stay close to the winner. He is still on course for Champion Chase and is another who will feature over Christmas at Leopardstown.
Big Zeb was a huge disappointment. His jumping let him down and he never looked to be travelling at any stage. Barry Geraghty tried to get him into the race but mistakes at the third and sixth fence knocked the stuffing out of him and it is back to blackboard now for the eight-year-old, who is much better than he showed on Saturday.
Henrietta Knight has been on the quiet side of late but the Wantage handler, who will be forever linked to the three-time Gold Cup winner Best Mate, has another smart recruit on her hands in Somersby, who ran out a convincing winner of the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase.