Fahey strikes blow for the small yard
Mullins' farrier hits mark with He'llberemembered
That mesmerising spectacle at Leopardstown yesterday was a fitting culmination to a cracking few days' racing. On Thursday, around 8,000 people thronged Gowran Park for a brilliant Thyestes Chase card.
Willie Mullins' all-conquering battalion plundered that prestigious €60,000 winner's pot to match Tom Dreaper's record haul of five with the returning 2012 hero On His Own.
Having also secured the €106,800 spoils when Rockyaboya scraped home in the Paddy Power Chase at Christmas, He'llberemembered's triumph in Leopardstown's valuable chase on Saturday was a deserved triumph for a smaller establishment.
The notion that anyone can win those lucrative handicaps is critical to their inflated existence and the game's image, so for Paul Fahey's modest Monasterevin stable to enjoy such a victory with the 11-year-old was welcome.
On the flip side, that Mullins lost the veteran Immediate Response after a fall at the last was an unfortunate postscript.
Fahey, who doubles as the champion trainer's farrier, and the five-pound claiming Shane Butler have also enjoyed graded success with Lots Of Memories this term.
He clearly knows his onions, as does Robert Tyner, whose record in these Leopardstown handicaps is exceptional. Tyner's Daring Article got closest to He'llberemembered, two days after Oscars Business' Thyestes third, which came a week after Byerley Babe's fantastic Thurles Grade Two.
Of course, Byerley Babe is owned by JP McManus, whose backing of Tyner in the last few years has been a tremendous vindication of the shrewd Kinsale handler's abilities.
McManus' patronage of Enda Bolger goes much further back, and the Bruree trainer's recent improved results outside of the 'banks' sphere culminated in Gilgamboa's decisive Boylesports.com Hurdle coup on Saturday.
Given his backing from McManus, you'd struggle to place Bolger in the 'small stable' category, but he is a hugely popular individual whose gradual emergence as more than a one-trick pony is not in the least surprising.
Gilgamboa (pictured right) is an inexperienced home-bred, so to be capable of such an authoritative performance on his fourth start, just three months after his first, was some feat.
At Doncaster, Annie Power did what was expected of her under Ruby Walsh. What her Cheltenham target will be remains to be seen, but it was not for nothing that she was ultimately a bigger mover in the World Hurdle market at Cheltenham in March than she was for the Champion Hurdle.
We still have no clue as to how she might cope with a scorching pace over two miles in what has the makings of a vintage Champion, but she has displayed all the credentials of a proper stayer.
The Champion would be the more romantic and bold target, not to mention possibly the least gruelling, keeping in mind her profile as a really serious long-term chasing prospect.
However, Annie Power appeals as something of a standing dish for an otherwise open World Hurdle, a point enhanced by the defeat of Big Buck's in Saturday's Cleeve Hurdle. Sam Twiston-Davies set sail a long way out on Paul Nicholls' brilliant four-time winner of the three-miler.
That was unexpected, as the one area in which he was certain not to have an edge on his rivals was fitness, yet that is the thing Twiston-Davies put the most emphasis on.
It was what you might call a novice's mistake, one that surely brought Big Buck's glorious unbeaten run to a premature end.
Nicholls said he was happy with the ride and that he had wanted the horse to have a race, but over three miles in deep ground at Cheltenham you couldn't not.
Big Buck's certainly will come on for the outing, but defeat to 66/1 shot Knockara Beau shows he isn't what he was and his invincible aura is gone.
A fairytale victory in March is going to be far from a formality now against coming forces like More Of That and At Fishers Cross, which showed some of his old sparkle in second on Saturday.
It would be even less of a formality if the best mare since Dawn Run stood in his way.
IGNORING RUBY ON UK FORAYS IS A MYSTERY
Arnaud very nearly set up what would have been a fine weekend double for Charles Byrnes' novice chasers when a gallant second to Alan King's Valdez at Doncaster on Saturday.
The manner in which Ruby Walsh's blue chip services have been repeatedly ignored by trainers other than Willie Mullins on his cross-channel forays has been one of this season's real mysteries, and he was left sat in the weigh room again for this two-mile Grade Two.
Former Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby was an early non-runner due to the state of the ground following overnight rain, and Denis O'Regan got a fantastic tune out of Arnaud until a blunder two-out knocked the wind out of his sails.
He was eventually beaten more than three lengths but certainly outran his 14/1 odds on ground that would have been soft enough for him. Mullins' Rathvinden also went down fighting at Cheltenham.
Returned the 6/4 favourite, he ran an honest race to be second in the Grade Two novice hurdle at Cheltenham for Barry Geraghty, but was simply toppled by a better horse in David Pipe's unbeaten Red Sherlock.
The winner was partnered to victory by Tom Scudamore on Saturday after regular rider Timmy Murphy unfortunately dislocated his troublesome shoulder again last week.
Scudamore set up a big-race double by taking the Argento Chase on David Bridgewater's The Giant Bolster. The shock 2012 Gold Cup runner-up ploughed through the deep ground to draw clear of Rocky Creek, and a third stab at the Festival's marquee event is now on the cards.
CRAWFORD'S MCLOVIN IN WITH CHANCE AT AYR
The raiders are out in force again at Ayr today, with 14 runners declared to represent seven different stables at the Scottish track.
Few will be of more interest than the in-form Stuart Crawford's McLovin, which caught many an eye when second to the promising Aklan at Navan recently. He lines out this afternoon in a two-mile maiden hurdle under the trainer's brother Steven, and should take some beating against a fairly modest bunch.
CURLEY-STYLE GAMBLE TO BE APPLAUDED
Last week's Barney Curley-style coup has divided opinion on whether the manner in which it was executed is to be considered a positive or a negative for racing's image.
This corner won't drag the debate out unnecessarily, but there is a quote from the British Flat trainer Mark Prescott – another genius at laying a horse out for a touch in a handicap – that I've referenced before that warrants repeating.
"Like any accountant dealing with tax," Prescott says, "the trainer has a responsibility to exploit any loophole, within the rules, for the benefit of his client."
In a nutshell, that is what Curley did so spectacularly, if indeed it is he who masterminded the heist.
There are ways of manipulating the handicapping system without 'stopping' horses, and it happens on a daily basis both here and across the water. Anyone who thinks differently is misguided.
Curley is one of the game's shrewdest, most colourful and elusive characters. He deserves all the plaudits he gets.
Tweet of the weekend
@_Finny_Maguire: Ruby's riding like a man possessed! #DifferentClass
Finny Maguire, son of Adrian Maguire and a star pony racing rider in his own right, sums up the sensational run of form that saw Ruby Walsh win on five of his six rides over the weekend.
160,000 Sterling figure which Dublin-based owner Barry Connell forked out for talented 11-year-old hunter chaser Mossey Joe at Brightwells in Cheltenham on Saturday.
Champion hunter last term, Mossey Joe was sold following a dispute of ownership, and hasn't run since completing a hat-trick for Declan McNamara at Stratford in June. He is to join Enda Bolger's team, with the Foxhunters' Chase his initial target.