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Leopardstown report

In one sense, it was last year’s story all over again at Leoparsdstown yesterday, as Carlingford Lough landed the Irish Gold Cup again, the first horse to win back-to-back renewals of the race since Beef Or Salmon in 2006 and 2007.  In another, however, it was a different story entirely.

JP McManus’ horse was expected last year, sent off the 4/1 third favourite.  Yesterday, he was allowed go off an unconsidered 20/1 shot, jockey Mark Walsh’s green and gold quartered cap telling you that he wasn’t even the most fancied of the owner’s two horses.

Last year, AP McCoy was on board Carlingford Lough, the perennial champ winning the Irish Gold Cup for the first time on his final attempt in his fairytale retirement year, just 24 hours after he had announced at Newbury that he would retire.  Yesterday, Sir Anthony McCoy (that’s new too) was on the winners’ podium all right, but he was presenting the trophy to the winning connections and applauding Mark Walsh’s ride.

In truth, for two miles and six furlongs of the three-mile race, it didn’t look likely.  Carlingford Lough appeared to be struggling in rear when the pace quickened.  Walsh said afterwards that he thought he was going to have to pull him up.

A detached last of the 10 runners on the approach to the second last fence, the John Kiely-trained gelding jumped that fence well and wheeled around the home turn on the inside past beaten horses.

At that point, Valseur Lido was travelling like the most likely winner.  The Gigginstown House horse had made smooth progress under a motionless Ruby Walsh, and had just loomed upsides fellow Gigginstown horse Road To Riches as they approached the final fence.  The Willie Mullins-trained gelding got in tight to the obstacle, however, landed on his nose and gave Walsh no chance of staying on board.

While all that was happening, Carlingford Lough was winging the fence on the far side and pulling clear up the run-in to win by 12 lengths.

“I just kept going gently on him,” said the winning rider.  “Once we jumped the second last, the others stopped in front of us.  He just kept galloping.  I think they probably went too quick early.  They all started to stop coming to the last.  It’s a brilliant feeling.”

“He was in good form,” said winning trainer John Kiely, “but I was just hoping to be in the first four.  I told Mark to ride him just to finish the race.  If he had been up with the pace from the start, I don’t think he would have won.  I never expected that he would win two Irish Gold Cups.”

So Willie Mullins was out of luck in the feature race, but the champion trainer still won four races on the day, including the three other Grade 1 races on the card, the only card in Irish National Hunt racing that can boast four Grade 1 contests.  Even so, the stories of the day were laden with unexpected twists.

The curtain-raiser, the Grade 1 Gain Spring Juvenile Hurdle, was won by Footpad, the outsider of the Mullins triumvirate, who stayed on best of all under Danny Mullins to belie odds of 14/1.  His two stable companions, Allblak Des Places and Let’s Dance, chased him home to provide Mullins with a 1-2-3, as favourite Ivanovich Gorbatov finished a disappointing fourth.

“Footpad was very good,” said Mullins  “The plan was for him to lie up close to the pace, but Danny thought that they were going to fast, so he dropped him in last.  It was a good performance.”

The bookmakers cut the winner’s odds for the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham to no better than 12/1.

Mullins also sent out Bleu Et Noir to land the Grade 1 Deloitte Hurdle.  Settled in third place through the early stages of the race behind pace-setter Bellshill, Barry Geraghty asked JP McManus’ horse to close at the end of the back straight, and he moved up around the outside of the leader over the second last flight.

Challenged by Tombstone on the run to the last, the Gigginstown House horse joined him over the last, but Bleu Et Rouge found plenty for Geraghty’s urgings to wrest back the advantage, then stayed on strongly to put three lengths between himself and his rival by the time they reached the winning line.

“He was good,” said Geraghty.  “It’s hard work out there, the whole way around, it’s a stiff track anyway.  He jumped the second last well and he ground it out from there.  When I got stuck into him, he found plenty.”

Mullins’ third Grade 1 winner on the day was Outlander, who stayed on strongly for Bryan Cooper to land the Grade 1 Flogas Chase, getting the better of a protracted duel with his stable companion Pont Alexander.

Pont Alexandre and Ruby Walsh took them along through the early stages of the race.  He and Outlander got racing from early, and started to pull away from their rivals as they exited the back straight, but it appeared that Outlander was travelling the stronger of the pair on the run to the final fence.  The Gigginstown House horse picked up in front at that obstacle and, as Pont Alexandre pecked badly on the landing side, kept on up the hill to provide Mullins with his third win in the race in the last four years.

“He did it very well,” said Cooper.  “He jumped fantastic, he just got a little lonely in front on the run-in.  He loved the ground, but I genuinely believe that he will be even better on better ground.”

The bookmakers put Outlander in for the JLT Chase at Cheltenham at no better than 10/1, and at best odds of 16/1 for the RSA Chase.  He could go for either race, but that’s a whole new story.

© The Sunday Times, 7th February 2016