Cheltenham

Saturday 26 July 2014

Bumper day for McNamara

Silver Concorde flies home to seal Weld's first Festival win in 24 years as Cooper's dream ends with broken leg

Richard Forristal

Published 13/03/2014|02:30

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Ruby Walsh clears the last on Faugheen on the way to victory in the Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham yesterday

On a day that crystallised the polar extremes of emotion that Cheltenham specialises in every March, Dermot Weld ended his 24-year Festival drought when Robbie McNamara drove Silver Concorde to victory in the Champion Bumper.

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Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh kicked the afternoon off in familiar fashion when Faugheen justified his banker tag with tremendous style in the Neptune Investment Novices' Hurdle.

The raiders' fortunes soon turned, though, culminating in Bryan Cooper being left with a broken leg after Clarcam fell in front at the second-last flight in the Fred Winter Hurdle.

It was a cruel end to a week that had promised so much for the rising star. This day last year, the 21-year-old took Prestbury Park by storm when bagging his first Festival success aboard Benefficient in the opening novice chase, before then going on to plunder a memorable double on the final day aboard Our Conor and Ted Veale.

He has since usurped the reigning champion jockey Davy Russell as retained rider for Gigginstown House Stud's elite battalion and arrived in the Cotswolds this time with a bluechip book of rides.

Now his season is over, but his leg will heal and he is young yet.

Our Conor was killed when he fell in the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday. Ruby Walsh stressed in the aftermath of that incident that human life is a far more precious thing, something we were again reminded of after McNamara's debut Festival win.

The 25-year-old is a cousin of JT McNamara, who was left paralysed from the neck down after a fall in last year's Kim Muir Chase. Perspective is always close at hand in this game.

Robbie stands all of 6ft 3in tall, but is one of the most respected amateur riders around. After problems with his weight came to a head at Galway during the summer, he contemplated hanging up his boots.

He eventually returned a month later and was rewarded with a memorable win aboard Weld's 16/1 shot in the Grade One finale here.

"I always said I'd retire after a Cheltenham winner, but I'm booked to ride tomorrow, so I can't retire," McNamara quipped. "This means everything."

The revered Curragh handler, who had endured a number of near misses in the Cotswolds since Rare Holiday's Triumph Hurdle win in 1990, felt that McNamara's commitment to do 11st 5lb on Silver Concorde was a tip in itself.

"Robbie doing 11st 5lb must have told somebody something," Weld said with a smile. "I don't think he has ridden that low in his life. He gave the horse a beautiful ride."

Weld bought the winner in 2009. After a pair of defeats in bumpers in 2012, Silver Concorde eventually returned from a lay-off to win at Leopardstown on December 28 last.

His trainer's patience paid off in spades here and the man who is recognised as one of the world's finest Flat handlers pointed to a critical piece of form in the book after Silver Concorde had battled home by a length and a half from the Walsh-ridden Shaneshill.

"It goes back to 2012 when I thought he'd win his bumper at Leopardstown, but he was beaten by Jezki," Weld explained with a nod to the Champion Hurdler. "I bought him as a yearling and he was a big weak horse, but his grand-dam was Ridgewood Pearl.

"He has just taken time. On soft ground, Vigil would have been the better horse, but on dry ground I always believed in this horse. He's a good horse – simple as that."

Vigil eventually finished a fair fifth in a race that couldn't come round soon enough for the travelling hordes. It is a contest that Irish-trained horses have now farmed 18 times since its inception in 1992 and it duly provided some respite at the end of a long afternoon.

Before the injury to Cooper, there were insults all round after Faugheen's initial victory. Morning Assembly and Ballycasey were outclassed in the RSA Chase, Bayan was held in in the Coral Cup and Big Shu couldn't justify the favourite's tag in his bid for successive wins in the cross-country.

CALAMITY

Then there was the Fred Winter calamity, after which Orgilgo Bay emulated the aforementioned quartet with an honourable place finish.

Pride of place among the vanquished went to the mighty Sizing Europe in the Champion Chase. All of 12 years of age, Henry de Bromhead's stalwart turned in another lionhearted display, eventually being carried out on his shield in fourth under Andrew Lynch.

De Bromhead's 2011 hero didn't have the juice in his legs to keep going up the hill, but he certainly kept them all honest. Faugheen certainly wasn't short of juice.

Just 24 hours after Vautour's rout, the 6/4 favourite delivered another barnstorming display in the Rich Ricci silks. He blundered at the third-last flight as Walsh eased him to the front, but powered home to stretch his unbeaten run across all disciplines to six.

"He looks a real good one," the champion trainer gushed of his third winner of the week. "When he blundered through the third-last I thought he might fall in a heap, but Ruby let him recover."

Mullins suggested Faugheen would be sent novice chasing next term and then elevated Vautour's effort to a whole new level. "What he did was grand," he said of Faugheen, "but for me Vautour yesterday was hugely exciting. What he did blew me away."

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