A PAIR of Irish winners over the weekend at Cheltenham probably didn't constitute a bad return given that there was little depth to the quality of the travelling party.
With the jumps season still only finding its feet and plenty of valuable, less competitive races to target at home, Irish trainers traditionally tend to be selective about what they send to the November gathering in the Cotswolds.
As was the case in March, the extended family of Mullins trainers was responsible for our entire haul, Willie's Uncle Junior plundering the cross-country race for a second time under his son Patrick on Friday, as Mags' Anonis (25/1) took yesterday's Listed bumper for her son Danny. Both riders are enjoying decent campaigns, with Patrick showing great composure to sit on Uncle Junior when he blundered late on.
His cousin Danny, who rode Dorset Square to win at the same fixture for Willie 12 months ago, is putting his focus more on the jumpers these days, having first made a splash on the Flat. For someone with his talent, his progress has been gradual rather than meteoric, but yesterday's decisive steer will help bring him to wider prominence. Coming on the back of his Kerry National success on Faltering Fullback, he enters the serious part of the campaign with confidence soaring.
Saturday's Paddy Power Gold Cup, apart from being another example of cowardly – and surely counter-productive – bookmaking in big-field handicaps with Grands Crus sent off at odds of 7/4, saw Casey Top and Questions Answered finish fourth and fifth respectively. From a 32-strong raiding party that was heavily populated with outsiders over the three days, those were two of the more solid performances.
Ruby Walsh, as ever, was at his brilliant, uncomplicated best on the winner Al Ferof, which began its career beating Minella Class, likewise a subsequent Grade One winner, in an Athlacca point-to-point for Liz Doyle and Brian O'Connell in 2009. Al Ferof, like Cue Card, was crushed by Sprinter Sacre in an Arkle Trophy that seemed to lack depth last March.
Now, following Cue Card's facile win at Exeter and Al Ferof's triumph on Saturday – a first in the big race for Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh – that analysis is open to revision.
Much of the talk beforehand had surrounded the two 'hype' horses, Grands Crus and Hunt Ball. Neither proved nearly good enough under 11st 7lb, yet Al Ferof, lumping 2lb more off 159, returned to his very best to deny the seemingly well-handicapped Walkon with some authority.
Apart from Denman's Hennessy heroics, it was as good a weight-carrying performance as we have seen in recent years and was certainly the most commendable in this particular race since Bradbury Star and Dublin Flyer defied 160-plus ratings to secure back-to-back renewals in the 1990s.
Beforehand, many reckoned this to be one of the best editions in recent years, and there is no reason to revise that particular viewpoint now. It was clearly the display of a genuine 160-plus horse so the King George VI Chase is a legitimate target now.
Elliott's good Cause
Charles Byrnes' Domination was sent off a well-backed 9/2 favourite for the two-mile contest, but never posed any real threat on the rain-softened ground. Galway-born Paddy Brennan won the race on last year's runner-up Olofi for Tom George, with Cash And Go, a Leopardstown Grade One victor for Edward O'Grady last year, second on its debut for Nicky Henderson.
Mullins on double in Cork
Willie Mullins, whose son Patrick rode the odds-on Clondaw Court to a facile victory in the Punchestown bumper on Saturday, brought his domestic haul for the two-day period to six with a brace at Cork yesterday.
After odds-on Champagne Fever easily won the two-mile maiden hurdle under Paul Townend, the same partnership took the half-mile longer edition with Tennis Cap (2/1), whose local owner, former rugby international Archie O'Leary, sponsored the Florida Pearl Novice Chase at Punchestown.
Kinsale-based Robert Tyner also bagged a double. Instant Impacked scored for a fourth time this year for him when keeping on gamely under Philip Enright in the two-mile handicap chase, before Way Up In The Air, sent off at the same SP of 4/1, repelled the odds-on Lord Of Tara for Damien Skehan in the bumper.
The conditions hurdle was won by Edward O'Grady's Staying Article (5/4) under Patrick Mangan.
260,000The sterling figure that recent Punchestown maiden hurdle winner Just A Par realised when Paul Nicholls outbid Henry de Bromhead at Cheltenham on Friday. Tom Taaffe went to £210,000 to buy Gold Bullet out of Michael O'Hare's stable. Successful in a Clonmel bumper in June, the Generous four-year-old's recent second to Road To Riches gained a timely boost when that one obliged yesterday.
17Winners required by Ross Geraghty, older brother of Barry, to claim the American jump jockeys' title. The 35-year-old, who won the 2002 Irish Grand National on Noel Meade's The Bunny Boiler, claimed his first US title by a margin of three.
@Jessica_Racing – Oscars Well is all ok after his second fence fall @punchestownrace
– Jessica Harrington keeps her followers informed after Oscars Well's spill. Unusually, it wasn't the fall that had caused most concern, as the former top-class hurdler galloped into the car park and on to a road after a gate was left open by an ambulance. He was reported to have done no damage.