Dullea hoping to slay Goliath when Damut steps up in class
Cork's rescheduled Hilly Way Chase card still has waterlogging issues to overcome if it is to go ahead on Sunday, and Bandon-based farmer Joe Dullea is one man anxious to see the fixture survive.
The 35-year-old has long mixed the vocation of milking 100 cows on the family farm in west Cork with a successful point-to-point career, first as a rider and then as a small-scale handler.
However, when local trainer Paul Moloney swapped the demands of training for a position at nearby Crowleys Mill, Damut was one of a handful of horses that he sent Dullea's way.
Dullea acquired a restricted licence and has quickly showed that opportunity was all he lacked.
In his first full season, Damut has been his flagbearer, winning four on the spin, while his two other runners have failed to make the frame just once in four starts.
It is quite a record, and on Sunday Damut is poised to make the necessary step up in class for the Grade Three Kerry Group Stayers Novices' Hurdle.
In a campaign that has seen the likes of Rashaan and Jer's Girl soar for similarly low-key connections, the seven-year-old son of Gamut has the potential to add another much-needed romantic angle to the narrative.
"The track is waterlogged in places and the forecast is mixed, so we are just keeping our fingers crossed that it goes ahead," Dullea said of Sunday's €32,500 event.
"It was heavy there the last day Damut won, so you'd be hoping that he would cope with it better than some of the others."
Winning four handicaps on the spin is a rare feat. Damut's 16lb hike to 131 in the ratings for his latest 12-length rout over two-and-a-half miles has forced Dullea's hand, but he is looking forward to seeing how his charge fares in a three-miler that has attracted 11 entries, including Willie Mullins' Gangster and Stone Hard.
"I know he is up in class," Dullea conceded. "But the others wouldn't have as much experience as him, which is something.
"We always thought Damut was a two- or two-and-a-half-mile horse, but the way he won the last day, he certainly wasn't stopping. He is very versatile; he is going from handicapping to a novice hurdle over three miles, so they will go slower than he is used to, which might help."
With Stone Hard and Gangster among four Gigginstown House Stud contenders and JP McManus' Westerner Boy also in the mix, there is a hint of David and Goliath about Damut's foray.
His owner is Edward Cogan, who farms just north of the Mallow venue in the town of Doneraile that will forever be associated with the game's very origins. Cogan bred him and failed to sell him as a young horse.
Victory on Sunday would add considerable value not just to Damut and his earnings, but also to his dam's future progeny.
"I'm sure if Edmond was interested in selling him, he'd have no trouble," Dullea said.
"If he was offered crazy money he'd have to think about it. But he has the dam, so anything that Damut does is a bonus for him now. He has been the horse of a lifetime for both of us, really."
The Hilly Way Chase has attracted eight entries this time, including the last three winners, Felix Yonger, Twinlight, and Days Hotel.
Ruby Walsh, meanwhile, has suggested that Special Tiara's connections would be wasting their time should they elect to appeal the Sandown stewards' decision not to award Henry de Bromhead's horse the Tingle Creek Chase after Sire De Grugy hampered him crossing the final fence.
"I think that will be fruitless," Walsh said of a potential appeal in his Racing UK blog, before criticising the British rules.
"I don't think rules in any sport should favour the offender over the victim, but all any steward can do is apply the rules as they are written, but there is a line in the interference rules that tries to make the stewards play god, and they can't do that.
"Nobody can be absolutely certain that the winner would have won anyway. It is almost impossible to change the result and that is not right.
"If there was no way you could be sent off in a football match, or give away a penalty, you would transgress the rules.The decision is open for serious debate."