McCoy hails Walsh's epic Carlingford ride
Tony McCoy was back in the winner's enclosure after the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, and so too was Carlingford Lough, the horse which had given him his first win in the race 12 months ago 24 hours after he had announced his impending retirement.
This time around, McCoy applauded from the sidelines as Mark Walsh rode the 20/1 chance to a dramatic and unlikely success, which seemed so unlikely with one fence to jump that Carlingford Lough hit Betfair's maximum price of 999/1 in running.
Walsh had anchored Carlingford Lough at the rear of the field throughout and was still several lengths adrift of his closest rival as they jumped the second last. He was still last turning for home, but made ground so rapidly in the straight that he was just a couple of lengths adrift as Valseur Lido and Road To Riches jumped the last.
Valseur Lido was going like a possible winner as he left the ground, but slipped and unseated Ruby Walsh on landing. Road To Riches, the 5/4 favourite, was briefly in front, but Carlingford Lough was finishing much the better and quickly went a dozen lengths clear at the line.
"Mark gave him a brilliant ride and got him to win much easier than I ever could," McCoy said. "Fair play to John Kiely [the winner's trainer] to get him back to form like that because he was disappointing last time in the Lexus [in December]. I know Ruby's horse was going well at the last, but Carlingford Lough would have been hard to beat anyway the way that he came home. He's a horse that likes to pass other horses and he's better ridden that way.
"He'd run in the Gold Cup now, why not? There's only one Gold Cup. It was hard to fancy him before this the way he ran at Christmas, and I'd have probably done what Barry [Geraghty, McCoy's successor as retained jockey for JP McManus] did and ridden [fifth-placed] Gilgamboa."
Carlingford Lough was cut from 66/1 to 20/1 for the Gold Cup by Coral, while Road To Riches, third home behind Coneygree and Djakadam in last year's Cheltenham race, is 20/1 (from 12/1) with the same firm. Valseur Lido is 20/1 from 40/1 for the Gold Cup and 5/1 from 8/1 for the Ryanair Chase the previous day.
"There was still a long way to go, the fences are there to be jumped and he didn't jump it," Willie Mullins said. "It was a great day for John Kiely, and I reckon Valseur Lido has booked his ticket for Cheltenham all right, he'll just have to jump a little better."
The remainder of the card was, as so often this season, a rout for the Mullins stable as the champion trainer in Ireland and, perhaps, in Britain too, compiled a four-timer that included three Grade Ones in the opening five races. There was a sense of 'for my next trick' about it too, though, as only one of the trainer's winners started as favourite.
Footpad led home a 1-2-3 for Mullins in the opening juvenile hurdle at 14/1 with Ivanovich Gorbatov, which set off as the 11/4 market leader for the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham, fourth for Aidan O'Brien and his son Joseph.
Ivanovich Gorbatov remains prominent in the Triumph betting but is out to 8/1 joint-favourite alongside Sceau Royal, with Footpad not far away on 12/1.
The second surprise of the afternoon for Mullins came when Bleu Et Rouge took the Deloitte Novice Hurdle at 11/1 ahead of Tombstone, with the Mullins-trained odds-on chance Bellshill third. The winner, another in the colours of McManus, seems more likely to drop back to two miles in the Supreme Novice at the Festival than step up in trip for the Neptune Novice Hurdle, not least because McManus already has Yanworth, the 7/4 favourite in the latter race.
"Bleu Et Rouge ran very well here at Christmas and he learned an awful lot so after talking to Mark [Walsh[, Barry went out there with a bit of confidence," said Mullins.
"The horse looked a bit green going to the last, but Barry thought if he could keep a little bit up his sleeve for after the last, he might beat Tombstone, which he did.
"All the jockeys are saying the ground is very testing so another two or three furlongs of the Neptune might suit him."
The only winning favourite for Mullins was Outlander in the Grade One Flogas Novice Chase, and again, ownership issues may determine his race at the Festival. Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown Stud operation owns No More Heroes, the 3/1 favourite for the three-mile RSA Novice Chase, and Outlander may run instead in the JLT Chase over two miles and five furlong the following day.
"It was a good battle with Pont Alexandre and then Pont just seemed to fold, whereas Outlander just galloped and jumped and that's what he does," said Mullins.
"I'm looking forward now to next month with him at Cheltenham. He's coming on all the time.
"He stays and jumps which is what you want in a good horse. He could go either way (JLT or RSA), and whatever way the owners want to go I'll be happy."
Sunday Indo Sport