Capodanno indicated the strength of Willie Mullins’ hand in the Gold Cup when running out a comfortable winner of the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.
No match for stablemate and current Gold Cup holder Galopin Des Champs at Christmas when a distant third, he was taking on most of the best of the British challenge in the Grade Two event, including the smart novice Stay Away Fay.
The Real Whacker, a Festival winner as a novice last season, took the field along to halfway when Ahoy Senor, winner of the race 12 months ago, nudged up his inside and began to put some pressure on.
Stay Away Fay, Royale Pagaille and then Capodanno (7-2) all moved up menacingly at one point or another, with almost all five in a line approaching the second last.
The Real Whacker cracked first and then unfortunately Stephen Mulqueen suffered a tack malfunction on Ahoy Senor.
With Stay Away Fay outpaced, Capodanno and Paul Townend pulled clear and went on to beat a staying-on The Real Whacker by two and three-quarter lengths.
There was a sad postscript to the race as Coral Gold Cup winner Datsalrightgino sustained a fatal injury when falling early on.
“It was very straightforward and a small field. I was going to ride my horse to suit him and it worked out,” said Townend
“He promised a performance like that. He showed as a novice he was going to be a force to be reckoned with but I don’t think we got the clearest of runs with him, but they seem to be able to train him now and keep going with him and I thought it was a good performance.
“He had been doing everything well (at home) and he was very close to Gerri Colombe the last day and if Gerri Colombe would have been here, then he would have been very short (in the betting).
“He was probably a bit overlooked but when people studied the race, they noticed that and he went off a lot shorter than he was in the middle of the week. He had to back up that Leopardstown run and he did today.
“I would probably have liked to have jumped the last, it was a long run without it, but it turned out fine. It’s a special place to come and it’s always lovely to ride a winner here on a big day.”
Capodanno’s only Festival entry is in the Ryanair Chase and Townend said: “He could drop back for the Ryanair and that will be down to Willie and Frank (Berry, racing manager for owner JP McManus) and JP’s team.
“I was lucky to get the leg-up on him today and I’m not usually in these colours, but with Mark (Walsh) going to Doncaster and jockeys going everywhere and Lossiemouth coming here, it all fell right. ”
Patrick Mullins was at Doncaster and the assistant trainer said: “We do think that Galopin Des Champs is a better horse, but Capodanno was a Grade One winner at Punchestown and then last year he got no clear run, I’d ignore his runs from last year.
“He was well treated today and he’s a high-class horse. Would we be surprised if he turned it round with Galopin Des Champs? We would, but we’ve been surprised before.”
Patrick Neville, trainer of The Real Whacker, said: “I was delighted with that.
“The ground would be a little bit deader than we would have liked, but he ran a great race amongst a top-class field. When you see the likes of Ahoy Senor and that lad there (Capodanno), it’s great to be here to compete with them.
“We will look forward to March and the Gold Cup, hopefully the sun will shine.”
Paul Nicholls’ faith in Stay Away Fay was undiminished in defeat, with a novice engagement at the Festival next on his agenda.
He said: “He has learned an awful lot today. He landed on the ditch first time round and the one later he pecked on landing probably didn’t help. I think he half blew up a little bit turning in and then he stayed on late.
“We are thrilled as he has probably learned more today than any race he has run in. He has not been beaten far, and at the weights he had an impossible task. I think that has put him right for the Festival.
“He is one of those horses you don’t want to run too quick. Last year he got beat at Doncaster, then he improved massively from there to Cheltenham and he will still improve. He will 100 per cent go for the Brown Advisory.”
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