esprit GOING FOR GOLD
Mullins' impressive chaser earns place among Festival elite with superb Leopardstown win
Leopardstown yesterday staged one of the biggest and most informative days of jump racing in Ireland ahead of Cheltenham.
Today, we analyse the four Grade Ones and wonder what effect they'll have next month.
•Hennessy Gold Cup
Yours truly said after Quel Esprit won at Thurles that it was too soon to be mentioning him and Gold Cup in the same sentence as he had to show more on a more competitive level.
Yesterday was that, albeit not a superb Gold Cup trial, and now at around 16/1 for the Gold Cup he has earned his place in the line-up.
Ruby Walsh's after-race comments that the race rode more like an English Grade One than an Irish was testament to the good gallop they went at and a faultless round of jumping which deletes the previous falls from the equation.
Ruby will now stand aside and let Paul Townend do the honours as he will of course have Kauto Star underneath him for the Gold Cup, and although I still feel finishing in front of Kauto Star and Long Run is beyond him, the master that is Willie Mullins trains him, so nothing would be a major surprise.
Incidentally, it was an incredible eighth Hennessy Gold Cup for Mullins yesterday, and the first time that Walsh was on board the winner for the champion trainer, who said of Quel Esprit: "He is the only Grade One chaser I have at the moment so we'll have to have a crack at Cheltenham."
He's not a horse who is likely to be backed at his current odds for the Gold Cup considering outsider Trecale was so close yesterday, albeit probably ridden to be third, but he could run into a place there.
•Dr PJ Moriarty Novice Chase
Racing is a game of different opinions but the opinion that Last Instalment was the most exciting horse on display yesterday was probably quite a popular one.
Philip Fenton's seven-year-old is now unbeaten from four starts over fences and is a real exciting horse to look forward to, not only for the RSA Chase next month, but hopefully for the 2013 Gold Cup.
Davy Russell set out from the flag fall going a good gallop and holding off his rivals as they queued up behind, something that impressed his trainer.
"The horses that were possibly quicker than him over hurdles were lining up behind but he answered every call which is a sign of a good horse," said Fenton.
"He seems to have it all." And that he does.
Connections of Grand Crus think enough of him to contemplate the Gold Cup, but they will underestimate Last Instalment at their peril and 8/1 looks a smashing bet.
•Deloitte Novice Hurdle
"Ruby Walsh rode him in a schooling bumper last year and said we'd a right one," revealed Tony Martin after Benefficient caused a major 50/1 upset in the 2m2f contest.
Benefficent was a 66/1 shot for the Neptune Investments prior to yesterday, and is as short as 16/1 in places following the impressive victory, while he is the same for the Albert Bartlett.
Martin said: "He's in everything at Cheltenham and we'll wait and see what we do.
"He is still a baby, and I'd say that's what happened to him the last day on heavy ground at Thurles."
Sous Les Cieux suffered his second defeat on the bounce, and the horse that beat him the last day, Cash And Go, was over 10-lengths behind him yesterday which leaves the form of those two somewhat puzzling, while Il Fenomeno, who was third yesterday, closed his gap on Sous Les Cieux from 25 lengths on their last meeting to four-and-three-quarters.
Benefficent was undoubtedly a major surprise to the uninformed yesterday, but won over an inadequate trip in a manner that means he could have a big say in the Neptune Investments and worse 20/1 shots could be backed.
•Spring Juvenile Hurdle
Dermot Weld's fantastic record around Leopardstown continued with Hisaabaat opening his hurdling account at the fifth time of asking.
Hisaabaat is now a 20/1 shot with Boylesports for the Triumph Hurdle, with Darroun and the so far unraced over hurdles Minsk below him in the betting for next month.
Hisaabaat seemed to benefit from the application of blinkers yesterday, although without them he was somewhat unlucky not to win last time out.
The ground was a help, but having won the race last year with Unaccompanied, you'd imagine Hisaabaat has some improving to do if he is to match her placing in the Triumph Hurdle.
"He will go for the Triumph, he had to run well here to do so and he has justified his place now. He is progressive and should run well," said Weld.
Minsk's hurdling debut at the end of the month will provide a very interesting guide, but chances of a first Irish winner in the Triumph since 2002 look slim at the moment.