Trainer-jockey partnership comes of age as Commander reigns supreme
The hitherto all-conquering Kauto Star team met their Waterloo for a second time at this week's festival when the dual Gold Cup hero hit the deck yesterday to compound Master Minded's Champion Chase eclipse.
A couple of rare blunders preceded the nightmare scenario for the odds-on favourite's conn-ections and legion of admirers alike as he exited at the fourth-last fence with almost 68,000 patrons gasping in disbelief.
From that point onwards the writing was virtually on the wall also for Kauto Star's great rival and stablemate Denman, with Galway's Paddy Brennan just biding his time before letting Imperial Commander (7/1) take charge and ultimately the Gold Cup.
Thus, a mere three days after stablemate Khyber Kim beat all except Binocular for the Smurfit Champion Hurdle spoils, this flourishing alliance between the somewhat eccentric trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies and Brennan really came of age yesterday.
Meanwhile, a greater number of placed horses allowed Ruby Walsh edge out compatriot Barry Geraghty for the festival's leading jockey award, while seven Irish-trained winners, two less than last year, was, nevertheless, a decent dividend.
Geraghty produced a power-packed finish on the well-backed Soldatino to follow up his JCB Triumph Hurdle victory a year ago for the Nicky Henderson stable on another grey French import Zaynar.
However, this was a race almost stolen by Tom O'Brien when going clear from the outset on the blinkered Barizan, which might well have prevailed at fancy odds only for hitting the final flight, which allowed Soldatino to grind out a merited success.
There was a second triumph of the week also for Andrew Lynch, having made the festival breakthrough on Tuesday aboard Sizing Europe, as Craughwell, Co Galway trainer Paul Gilligan struck with his first runner.
Berties Dream had run a fine race here over a shorter distance last November in the mud behind Tell Massini and comprehensively reversed that form with the local hotpot on more favourable terms.
This renewal of the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle turned into something of a marathon and the verdict was only secured by Lynch's mount late on from fellow outsider Najaf.
The Vincent O'Brien Handicap Hurdle, which had seen Ruby Walsh successful for Paul Nicholls three times in the past six years, went instead to Walsh's younger sister Katie, who recorded her second winner of the week on Thousand Stars for Willie Mullins.
Walsh brought the good money-spinner home in front of former festival hero Arcalis.