Heskin savours Island paradise
Veteran Church Island defied his advancing years to create a 20/1 surprise in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown as the curtain came down on the British National Hunt season.
The 11-year-old stayed best of the 19 runners off a searing early pace to triumph for Co Limerick trainer Michael Hourigan and young 7lb claimer Adrian Heskin.
Piraya set a very quick tempo in front early on and Heskin chose to take a prominent position, settling in second as the gallop started to sort the men from the boys. As Piraya just started to toil, Heskin took the initiative aboard Church Island with a mile to go as his rivals began to fall by the wayside. Church Island was not stopping in front though and while Hoo La Baloo and former winner Lacdoudal tried to go with him, they had no answer as he cleared the last and powered away by six lengths.
Hoo La Baloo took second, with Lacdoudal three and three-quarter lengths away in third and 13-year-old Monkerhostin back in fourth.
It was another great result for Hourigan and Heskin, who had teamed up to great effect at Cheltenham with A New Story.
Heskin said: "Mr Hourigan has been very good to me and has given me some great opportunities. All he does is stay and gallop and gallop. Turning in I thought we'd gone a bit mad but he pulled out more and is as tough as nails. He was a top-class horse as a novice and deserved a big one."
Hourigan said: "I have to say I'm more proud of Adrian and his prospects than for any of the good horses I have trained. He gave him a peach of a ride and as he gets older and stronger, he's going to be some jockey. The horse was fourth last year and I was gutted because he made all the running and stayed on again at the end so this is his reward."
Later on, Paco Boy showed his rivals a clean pair of heels as he registered back-to-back victories in the bet365 Mile. Sent off the 11/10 favourite, Richard Hannon's charge was having his first start since finishing second in the Sussex Stakes 269 days ago.
Paco Boy was travelling sweetly for Richard Hughes and when he gave him the signal a furlong out, the response was immediate. Pressing kept on for second while The Cheka finished third.
David Pipe had three winners on the card, including I'm So Lucky in the Grade 2 Celebration Chase. All eyes were on Paul Nicholls' 13/8 favourite Twist Magic after he refused to race at Punchestown on Tuesday but he gave himself every chance before emptying at the third last.