Donn's Articles » Down Royal report

Down Royal report

In the end, it was well worth the wait, because the Ladbrokes Champion Chase, re-staged at Down Royal yesterday after it was lost to the elements a week ago, served up a thriller, with Gerri Colombe staying on best of all under Jack Kennedy to get home by a neck.

This was the young pretender against the established guard.  Just a four-horse race, just two trainers represented, but the race didn’t lack for intrigue for all of that, and it was steeped in class.  A Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, an Irish Gold Cup winner and a Ryanair Chase winner in the line-up, and yet, they sent Gerri Colombe off the odds-on favourite.  It was a big test for Gordon Elliott’s youngster, two years younger than his youngest rival and racing outside novice company for the first time in his life, but he dug down deep and he passed the test.

It was a fascinating race to watch.  Conflated led from early under Sam Ewing, but he jumped a little to his left on occasion, as is his wont.  Minella Indo travelled well under Darragh O’Keeffe along the inside, just behind the leader, while Rachael Blackmore sat cold on Envoi Allen early on, last of the four runners.

The only real early drama was at the third fence when Gerri Colombe put in a short stride and made a mistake, but he was clever, he didn’t lose much momentum, and Jack Kennedy quickly had him back into his rhythm.  

They didn’t really start to race until they got to the third last fence.  Conflated picked up in front and Jack Kennedy asked Gerri Colombe to go forward.  Rachael Blackmore started to weave her way through on Envoi Allen: outside Minella Indo, inside Gerri Colombe, inside Conflated, cleverly, given her rival’s propensity to go to his left.

And Conflated did go to his left again, at the second last fence, took Gerri Colombe with him a little, so that his stable companion had to switch, and left a wide-eyed gap on the inside for Envoi Allen.  Henry de Bromhead’s horse duly grabbed the opportunity, hit the front on the run to the last and went for home.  And when Gerri Colombe jumped the last big and landed with a lack of momentum, it looked like Envoi Allen would get there in his bid to land back-to-back renewals of this race and to bring his Down Royal record to five from five.  But the young horse battled back on the far side for Jack Kennedy, clawed back the deficit and got back up to win by a neck.

“It looked like it was after going a bit wrong on us, but he battled really hard and dug deep,” said Jack Kennedy, who had, quite remarkably, ridden all three of yesterday’s rivals to Grade 1 success in the past. “They’re getting a little but older but they’re class horses, so for him to go and beat them, for things to go wrong for him and for him to still win, it’s probably a sign that he’s a really good horse.”

It was the highlight of a fantastic weekend at Down Royal for the rider, who rode the first four-timer of his career on Friday and followed up with a treble yesterday.  And it was a phenomenal weekend all round for trainer Gordon Elliott, who was responsible for six of the seven winners at Down Royal on Friday, and for five of the seven winners yesterday. 

© The Sunday Times, 12th November 2023