Nolan savours golden moment
"This was Joncol's Gold Cup. Cheltenham and the Ryanair Chase is at the back of our minds, not the front, and there's always the Guinness Chase at Punchestown if the ground stayed right."
Thus elated Wexford trainer Paul Nolan outlined future plans for his towering stable star which battled bravely for young Alain Cawley to deny Cooldine the Hennessy Gold Cup spoils at Leopardstown yesterday.
The 22-year-old rising star, his boss Nolan and owner-breeder Kay Browne were cheered to the echo by a crowd of almost 11,700 when securing handsome compensation for their Lexus Chase defeat there after Christmas.
Happily for the Joncol partnership there was no repeat of the costly mistake three out that had left the seven-year-old vulnerable to the late challenges of English pair What A Friend and Money Trix in the Lexus promotion.
Nevertheless it was only in the dying strides that Nolan's charge got the better of main market rival Cooldine on which Ruby Walsh's clever ploy of setting just the pace he wished up front almost paid off.
Leaving his Lexus eclipse well behind on this occasion, Cooldine, which made a mistake at the sixth fence that hardly interrupted his rhythm, still held the call into the straight as Schindlers Hunt loomed up menacingly.
No sooner had Walsh's mount begun to see off that rival than Joncol powered into contention over the final fence and, despite hanging towards the stands, was soon back on an even keel to join battle in earnest.
The winning time of 6 minutes, 41.5 seconds -- 13 seconds slower than Neptune Collonges achieved last year -- suggests that the pace was tailored more towards getting home in the soft ground than making it a true stamina test.
Already proven chasers at Grade One level over shorter trips, it was no great surprise that Joncol and Cooldine managed to dominate the finish, with the latter going down by only a neck after a bold bid to give champion trainer Willie Mullins a seventh success in the Hennessy Gold Cup.
Walsh felt that "lack of match practice" cost his mount, which he commented "did everything right, ran his heart out and is as honest as the day is long".
Predictably enough, Willie Mullins added: "I'm very happy as that was much more like the old Cooldine. I expect he will improve, as he did through last season, and go to Cheltenham now for the Gold Cup."
Nolan, meanwhile, seems lukewarm about subjecting Joncol to a Cheltenham challenge in the Ryanair Chase.
"He had a hard race here in the Lexus Chase and we were just trying to freshen him up for today without leaving him short of work either, so he might need a break and maybe head to Punchestown. Obviously you'd be hoping the ground would be okay for him still at Punchestown time.
"He's probably 20lb behind the top horses Kauto Star and Denman, but he's still young enough to improve further."
A crack at the Foxhunters Chase in the Cotswolds is very much on the cards, though, for Cork owner Sean Lucey's Kilty Storm, which augmented two recent 'points' wins when landing the Raymond Smith Memorial Hunters Chase.
Champion jockey Walsh got on the mark when Moville ran out a convincing winner of the two-mile handicap hurdle for Martin Brassil. The gelding led at the final flight and stayed on strongly to score by two-and-a-half lengths from Jigalo.
"He didn't get the run of the race in the MCR Hurdle last time and came out of it quite fresh so I decided to let him take his chance," said Brassil.
Promising claimer Keith O'Donoghue was seen to good effect when getting Blazing Tempo home in the mares' handicap hurdle while John Kiely's Frawley showed a good turn of foot to claim the bumper
As well as a welcome increase of over 1,600 patrons from Hennessy day last year, there was close on €2.2m in circulation at the Foxrock venue yesterday with a record Tote tally for the fixture of €785,000 resultant from a €350,000 injection of funds from French punters for the four Grade One races.