Edwulf caused a monumental upset when landing a thrilling Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
This was a truly remarkable success, as the horse had almost died at the Cheltenham Festival little more than 10 months earlier. He’d collapsed in the latter stages of the four-mile chase, and vets had worked tirelessly to save him. Only after a summer vacation did connections give any thought to a return to racing.
Our Duke was sent-off the 9/4 favourite, but Jess Harrington’s young chaser fluffed his lines when getting the second-last all wrong and stumbling badly on landing. The Willie Mullins-trained Djakadam had bowled along in front, but as the leading contenders approached the last it was his stablemate Killultagh Vic that looked to have made a decisive move. However, he too made a crucial jumping error, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Outlander was left at the head of affairs as he looked to add to his terrific track record. But in a pulsating finish he was unable to withstand a power-packed finish from Edwulf and jockey Derek O’Connor. A neck separated the pair at the line, with Djakadam 10-lengths further back in third.
It was one of the finest moments in the saddle for O'Connor and he said of his mount: “I'm exceptionally happy for the horse. He ran himself into the ground for me at Cheltenham and we thought his career was over but he's after coming back to his best.”
For trainer Joseph O’Brien, this is yet another prestigious prize in such a fledgling career. He looked stunned when speaking on At The Races and said: “He's always been a great horse. It's a credit to everyone involved - the staff at home, the vets at Cheltenham last year and JP (McManus, owner) and Frank Berry (McManus' racing manager), who gave him all the time in the world. It's been a long road to get him back from where he was at Cheltenham when we thought he was gone.
“Derek is an unbelievable horseman. Horses just jump unbelievably well for him and he gets on great with this fella. We're over the moon. We'll see how he comes out of this first and we'll think about Cheltenham then. It's not too often you get a horse good enough to run in the Gold Cup so if he's well, I'd imagine he might go there.”
Gordon Elliott will also send the runner-up to contest the blue riband at Prestbury Park. The County Meath handler said: “He ran his heart out and seems to like it here. We have to run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Where else would you go?”
Our Duke’s error at the second-last put-paid to any hopes of winning, but jockey Robbie Power was pleased with his efforts, saying: “I'm absolutely delighted with him. Down Royal was a non-event for him and realistically this was his first run of the season. He was very ring-rusty and he'll improve an awful lot from it.”
Earlier in the day Gordon Elliott’s Samcro had further enhanced his reputation as one of the sports most prodigious new talents. He cruised to victory in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle, slamming a strong field by more than five-lengths. The powerful six-year-old is now a shade of odds-on for the Ballymore Novices’ at Cheltenham. He also heads many Supreme markets along with the Willie Mullins-trained Getabird. The Ballymore may prove the easier option, though connections will no doubt decide nearer the time.
The Flogas Novice Chase had looked an exceptionally competitive renewal, with a field of 11 going to post. And so it proved as five jumped the last almost in a line across the track. Monalee had led from the off and despite plenty having a crack at him, he simply refused to let anyone past. Henry De Bromhead’s chaser is now second-best to Presenting Percy in the RSA betting.
On Saturday many had flocked to Leopardstown in hope of seeing a resurgent Faugheen. The ex-champ has had his problems of late and was on a recovery mission after a poor performance over Christmas. He was sent-off an odds-on favourite to land his second Irish Champion Hurdle, but despite a much-improved effort he was unable to hold off the prolonged challenge of Jess Harrington’s Supasundae.
Mullins had clearly hoped for more when saying: “I was disappointed with him. He's sort of half back on track, but he'll have to improve a lot to be back where he was. I was actually very happy when he was coming round the last bend, but by the time they lined up for the last, the writing was on the wall. I was hoping at that stage he might pull something else out, but it wasn't to be. I'm just hoping spring ground, spring air and spring sunshine might rejuvenate him, but there's just no spark there, I think.”
Of the much-improved winner, Jess Harrington said: “He's never jumped as well before, he jumped absolutely super and was always travelling. I thought they'd go too quick for him over two miles and Robert was sure when he had Faugheen in his sights at the last he would stay every inch of the way, and he did. I came here to give him a prep run for the three-mile hurdle at Cheltenham and to win this is some prep run!”
She added: “He's only in the Stayers’, so that's where he'll be going. He is a much better horse on better ground, he doesn’t like slogging around in very muddy ground and that's why he comes into his own in the spring.”
Footpad put in a commanding performance to land the Arkle Novice Chase. Run at a cracking pace, the young chaser led from the drop of the flag, chased throughout by Petit Mouchoir. The runner-up, returning from injury, lost little in defeat, and should get a lot closer to the winner at Cheltenham.
Mullins was more than satisfied with Footpad, saying: “He did it the hard way and jumped well in front. I think he pecked a bit at the last, but it was a very good performance. We didn't set out to make it, but Paul wasn't happy there was enough pace so he went on. We are heading for the Arkle unless something else changes.”
He added: “Footpad was fourth in a Champion Hurdle, but we thought he would be going two and a half miles or more over fences. The first day he jumped he was very good and when you can jump, you can go any trip.”
The trainer’s comments were interesting, especially as owners Munir and Souede have Sceau Royal lined up for the Arkle at Prestbury Park. The bookies were taking no chances, shortening Footpad to a shade of odds-on for the two-mile event, whilst several cut him to as short as 2/1 for the JLT.
Any Mullins and Ricci disappointment in Faugheen was tempered by the stunning success of Min in the Dublin Chase. He romped to victory and now looks a serious challenger for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, with or without Altior. Travelling powerfully throughout, he breezed past long-time leader Special Tiara as they approached the last before stretching clear for a 12-length success. Ordinary World had looked like throwing down a challenge, but he blundered badly at the last and Davy Russell did well to stay on-board.
The inaugural Dublin Racing Festival has proved to be a huge success. And many horses took the opportunity to enhance their reputation with Cheltenham little more than a month away.
Supasundae must have a great chance in the Stayers’ following his stunning success in the Irish Champion Hurdle. Better ground will suit, and he already has a Festival victory on his CV. Footpad has looked sensational over fences and is sure to go close in the Arkle Chase. He’ll have a slightly fitter Petit Mouchoir to contend with at Cheltenham and I’d expect the rematch to be a thriller.
Monalee was a gutsy winner of the Flogas Novice Chase and should go close in the RSA. Runner-up in last year’s Albert Bartlett, the seven-year-old clearly goes on the track. However, don’t discount Al Boum Photo when looking for a likely winner. The Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old finished to great effect and was less than a length adrift at the line. And he’s still available at 25s with a couple of bookies.
Min must have a great chance in the Champion Chase having romped to victory on Saturday. But I’d also be interested in Ordinary World back at Prestbury Park on decent ground. De Bromhead’s chaser was mounting a fair old challenge when getting the last all wrong. He was third to Altior in last year’s Arkle and though he’s not good enough to win, he could be on hand to pick up a place as others fall by the wayside. He’s available at 50/1, with many of those above him in the betting likely to run elsewhere. I’ve had a little each-way, as that price is simply wrong.
It’s also interesting to see that the bookies have given-up on Espoir D’Allen after his disappointing effort in the juvenile race. He ran far too freely yesterday before floundering in the mud. Cheltenham will be different, with a decent pace assured, and better ground likely. A couple of years back Ivanovich Gorbatov flopped in the same race, yet at Prestbury Park a month later was able to fend off Apple’s Jade in the Triumph Hurdle. Footpad was a well-beaten third that day. You can now get 20s on an Espoir upset and I’m seriously tempted.
Unfortunately, I’ve probably missed the boat on Samcro. His price has contacted too much for the likes of me, though those with deep pockets will no doubt be lumping on for what looks the banker of the meeting. Those going antepost will hope that they choose the right race, which, at the moment, appears to be the Ballymore Novices’.
And what of Edwulf? Can he really go to Cheltenham and win the Gold Cup? It would be some story, if he was to return to the track that almost took his life, only to win one of jump racing’s most sought-after prizes.