Hurricane Fly brings curtain down on Festival in style
Published 31/12/2012 | 05:00
There is no denying that 2012 ended in a similar fashion to 2011, with the elusive quest for an Irish-trained Cheltenham Gold Cup winner more or less obliterated.
In last year's Lexus Chase, Rubi Light and Quito De La Roque were put in their place by Synchronised, an exposed, quirky British stayer.
This time, it was the mercurial Tidal Bay, 12 years young tomorrow, that spoiled the Leopardstown party, albeit in thrilling fashion.
The closing stages of the race brought to mind a scene in the new Tolkien film 'The Hobbit', when Bilbo and his company of dwarfs are in a fix.
Three slovenly trolls have begun roasting the dwarfs on a spit, and the game looks up, only for good old Gandalf to suddenly appear.
With a single shunt of his magic staff, he cracks a giant rock in half to expose the sun-averse beasts to the rising daylight. The three trolls instantly turn to stone.
On Friday, as Flemenstar and First Lieutenant knuckled down after the last fence with Sir Des Champ coming with his run from behind, the fate of the Lexus looked equally sure to have an Irish hue to it. But for the timely intervention of another greying wizard, it would have.
Ruby Walsh cracked his whip, and a glint of daylight appeared between Flemenstar and First Lieutenant.
It would be a tad harsh to say that the three Irish horses turned to stone, but the magic that Walsh weaved certainly had a destiny-altering effect.
Granted, the fallout seems less final than a year ago, and the pre-Christmas theory that the Lexus would be a more meaningful Gold Cup trial than the King George isn't entirely obsolete.
Flemenstar's exuberant jumping may be used to better effect in the Hennessy Gold Cup, and the two Gigginstown Stud-owned horses should still have big spring prizes in them.
At the end of the day, though, all three took the last in front of and better than Tidal Bay, yet still got beaten. Sorcery or not, that was a disappointment of epic proportions.
Hurricane Fly brings curtain down on Festival in style
Ruby Walsh didn't need to be nearly so quixotic to steer Hurricane Fly to a bloodless victory in the Istabraq Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday.
For the second time this term following his slightly inconclusive but nonetheless stylish triumph in the Morgiana Hurdle when Go Native fell at the last flight, the 2011 champion, sent off the 1/5 favourite, posted a superior performance that was at odds with last season's laboured efforts. He sprinted readily clear from the home bend to thrash last year's winner Unaccompanied by seven lengths for a 13th Grade One success.
Willie Mullins' star once again vies for the market lead with Darlan to regain his Cheltenham crown at as low as 7/2, but another tilt at the Irish version is first up on January 27.
Dermot Weld subsequently suggested that his runner-up could have one more outing before trying to foil the champion trainer's Quevega in the mares' race at the Festival.
Having been privy to some memorable big-race finishes in the preceding three days, Hurricane Fly's virtuoso rout in the two-mile showpiece was a classy climax to the Foxrock venue's festivities.
Total attendance checked in at 54,002, which was down just 1pc on 2011. Bookmakers' turnover was less healthy, €3,776,590 representing a 13pc year-on-year fall.
toasts year to remember
Patrick Mullins' victory on Zuzka (11/10 favourite) in the Grade Three mares' hurdle for his father Willie on Saturday took his domestic total for the calendar year to 71.
When combined with the two that he rode in England in 2012, that saw him break the record of 72 winners ridden by an Irish-based amateur rider, which was set by Billy Parkinson during World War One in 1915, when there was no English racing.
The 23-year-old (above) partnered his father's third winner of the day when Outlander took the bumper to match Parkinson's Irish tally.
2012 a good year for ...
Davy Russell and Joseph O'Brien
Both were deserved champion jockeys for a first time.
The Irish Grand National-winning team
Lion Na Bearnai stormed to glory at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday, a famous win for his Kells handler Tom Gibney and journeyman 3lb-claiming jockey Andrew Thornton.
A native of Ballineen in Co Cork, Murphy's £50 five-horse accumulator at the Cheltenham Festival netted him £1m. He staked the bet on his then employer Nicky Henderson's five Grade One winners in December when their targets were still unknown, and only a payout limit prevented him picking up the full worth of the wager, £3.2m
The Triple Crown proved beyond him, but the Ballydoyle colt accrued three Classics, including the 2,000 Guineas and Epsom Derby.
Flemenstar's story took an unwelcome turn for the worse last week, but his loose-tongued trainer, a teetotal potato and sheep farmer by day, remains an unlikely hero.
The Galway-born Grand National-winning rider took the Flat world by storm, clocking up 108 winners in a deeply impressive debut campaign. A title challenge awaits.
Pulled up to rapturous applause on his only start of the year in the Cheltenham Gold Cup having suffered a heavy fall at home just a few weeks earlier, the greatest steeplechaser of modern times was retired intact in the autumn.
Gained the success he deserved on the big stage when stealing the Champion Hurdle with a canny ride on Rock On Ruby last March. Not before time.
Kildare-born son of trainer Dessie crowned Flat champion in Britain.
Turned €2,000 purchase Gordon Lord Byron into a Group One winner.
Frankel and Black Caviar
Global equine superstars that kept their unbeaten records intact.
2012 a bad year for ...
Routine fence bypassing in England
An unfortunate Fakenham incident cost young Brendan Powell dearly recently, but the farcical scenes that may or may not have cost Sizing Europe back-to-back Champion Chases left an especially sour taste.
The Aintree Grand National
Dragged through the mud for a second year in a row by those closest to it in an attempt to placate the meddlers, the greatest stand-alone sporting event in the world paid the price when John Smiths announced the end of its sponsorship from 2014. Lost amid all the bad publicity was that this year's race was an absolute belter.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup
A golden era for staying chasers ended when Synchronised was good enough to land a mediocre edition.