Thursday 29 September 2016

Pointing the route to National Hunt glory

Paddy Power Gold Cup winner Annacotty is the latest hot prospect to emerge from the Irish point-to-point circuit

Siobhan English

Published 25/11/2015 | 02:30

Jockey Ian Popham and Annacotty in the winners' enclosure after their victory in recent Paddy Power Gold Cup in Cheltenham.
Jockey Ian Popham and Annacotty in the winners' enclosure after their victory in recent Paddy Power Gold Cup in Cheltenham.
Jim Culloty celebrates in 2004 after steering Best Mate to a third Cheltenham Gold Cup success.
Action from a point-to-point meeting at Stradbally House hosted by the Laois Hunt.

Cheltenham Gold Cup winners such as Best Mate, War of Attrition and Denman and Aintree Grand National winners Monty's Pass, Bindaree and Silver Birch are all well-known in National Hunt circles worldwide, but few may know that their careers over fences began far from Prestbury Park on the Irish point-to-point field.

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Take Best Mate, for example. Purchased for a modest sum of 2,500 guineas as a foal in 1996 by the late Tom Costello, as a four-year-old he went on to win on only his second run in a point-to-point in Tuam before being snapped up for an undisclosed sum by Henrietta Knight and Terry Biddlecombe.

The rest, they say, is history with a King George VI Chase and three Cheltenham Gold Cups to his credit before his untimely death at the age of 10 in 2005.

While fellow Gold Cup winners War of Attrition and Denman have since retired and are enjoying life in the field, there are dozens more horses who have taken their place in the realms of National Hunt racing, and both Annacotty and A Hare Breath are just two Irish point-to-point graduates who have recently added their names to the list of autumn Cheltenham winners for 2015.

Previously trained in Carlow by Willie Murphy and now in the UK, both horses were hugely impressive at the recent two-day meeting, with A Hare Breath landing the Opus Energy Novices' Handicap Hurdle after two-year absence from the track and Annacotty winning the £160,000 (€228,000) Paddy Power Gold Cup.

Bred by Martin Byrne, A Hare Breath was not a quick-starter and it was some time before the son of Murphy's own stallion Alkaadhem began to shine.

"I got him as a three-year-old to break but he was a rather backward four-year-old," Murphy said of the now seven-year-old gelding who was pulled up on his first two starts at Dromahane and Laurencetown. "That was in the spring of his four-year-old year so we put him away and ran him again in early 2013."

That indeed proved a wise decision as he proved a convincing winner at Bennettsbridge to beat stablemate Walk On Al.

A few months later A Hare Breath was put up for auction at Newbury Sales where he was purchased by UK trainer Nick Gifford for £70,000 (€99,900).

A runner-up in Ascot and fourth in Newbury later that year the gelding was then plagued with injuries with his pelvis and a suspensory ligament but incredibly returned to the track after 695 days on the sidelines to win for new trainer Ben Pauling.

"He comes from a very impressive family," Murphy said, "and it was great to see his half-brother De Plotting Shed (by Beneficial) place second in a bumper at Punchestown last weekend."

The five-year-old was purchased by Tom Malone for €75,000 during the Punchestown Sale in April and is now in training with Gordon Elliott.

The dam Lady Willmurt has produced eight foals in all and Murphy is fortunate to have another two up-and-coming stars in the yard by Alkaadhem. "There are two full-brothers to A Hare Breath here at the moment and the four-year-old Din Diddle Inn is expected to run shortly."

"We've been very lucky with the sire really as for the amount of mares covered he has produced some really good horses in recent times. This includes Moylisha Tim, a recent winner at Cork."

Another is Alkaa Lion, who won on his debut in the spring and is a half-brother to Can U See Me Now, a consistent pointer by Amilynx, a former Ballycurragh Stud stallion who is also sire of the UK-trained Imjoeking.

With just 15 horses in training year-round, Willie Murphy is also justifiably proud of another former resident making his mark across the water.

A son of Beneficial bred by Patrick Crotty, Annacotty also started his career over fences at Ballycurragh, having originally been sent to the trainer by then-owners Michael and Ciara Carty of Kilmoney Cottage Stud.

Of the rising eight-year-old, Murphy said: "I got him as a three-year-old and he was third twice at Tralee and Dromohane the following spring before coming back to win at Kirkistown the following November."

Decision

A month later he was purchased at the Brightwells Cheltenham Sale by bloodstock agent Gerry Hogan for £35,000 (€49,900). Bought on behalf of current owners Liz and Peter Prowting, within weeks he gave his owners their first ever Grade 1 when triumphing in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton.

Trained at the time by Martin Keighley he was said to be one of the yard's leading lights, but earlier this summer the owners made the surprise decision to send the gelding to Alan King who sent him out a 12/1 winner on his debut with Ian Popham.

It was perhaps no coincidence that King also trained the horse's dam Mini Moo Min to win three races over hurdles, and now he has the next generation of the family which also boasts dual Scottish National Chaser winner Androma.

"It's great to see both horses going on to do so well, Willie Murphy said, "considering both of them were stablemates here at the same time."

Richard Pugh of Irish Point-to-Point Services said the past few weeks have been exceptional in that just under 50 Irish point-to-point graduates have won on the track both here and across the water in the UK.

"It's still only November and we've also seen such recent Cheltenham winners as Denis Murphy's former pair of Shantou Village and Loughaderra Prince."

Earlier this spring Pugh and his colleagues at Tattersalls developed Bidpoint, a unique new way of buying and selling Irish point-to-point horses via an online platform.

"It got off to a great start and slowed down slightly for the autumn as people already had made their purchases, but we are confident it will pick up again in the spring," he said.

The facility allows vendors put horses forward at the time of entry and purchasers place bids on them up to approximately 48 hours after they run at one of the many point-to-point tracks across the country.

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