Imperial Call strikes Gold
THE joys and despair of jump racing were sampled once again at Punchestown yesterday as Imperial Call and Our Bid bounced back to form but Joe Mac and two other smart horses perished.
What has already proved a memorable season for local hero Ruby Walsh was topped off splendidly as Imperial Call turned in a majestic display to land the inaugural Heineken Gold Cup at a session where punters splashed out more than £2 million.
The Bookmakers put almost £1.5 million through their sheets, the Tote did record second day business in excess of £500,000 and the Paddy Power shop was packed as the results generally went in favour of the layers.
Sadly leading novice Joe Mac suffered a fatal collapse after the Stanley Cooker Champion Novice Hurdle, Storm Gem broke her back during the Barrett Bloodstock Handicap Chase and Ingonish had to be put down after breaking a leg seconds after finishing third in the Paddy Power Champion bumper behind shock scorer Our Bid.
While those who never gave up on the 1996 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Call were celebrating after the Heineken Gold Cup, the race proved a bonanza for the bookies with Florida Pearl failing to justify heavy support, Dorans Pride having another off-day and Escartefigue exiting at the first fence.
But this catalogue of woe failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the West Cork contingent, notably 23-year-old trainer Raymond Hurley from Clonakilty, who still believed there were plenty of big races left to be won with the Wexford-bred Imperial Call.
Taken into an immediate lead by Ruby Walsh, having a memorable initial spin on the 8/1 chance, the Cheltenham hero of three years ago hardly put a foot wrong as his rivals struggled in vain to reel him in on ground drying out by the hour in glorious sunshine.
For the second time, Flordia Pearl was unable to raise the tempo when he appeared to get into pole position on the heels of the leaders and eventually finished a 14 length runner-up with a distance back to Dorans Pride which was fortunate to survive a bad mistake four out when already appearing to be struggling.
While it is often fruitless to make excuses for beaten horses, Willie Mullins has not given up on Florida Pearl just yet remarking: ``We will have to sit down and think about his programme for next year and maybe it's a question of different tactics with him in the future. But maybe we have gone into a higher grade and he isn't able for it.''
In contrast the Imperial Call camp were all smiles, and the retired Fergie Sutherland who prepared the horse for Cheltenham glory was among those elated by this emphatic return to winning ways.
``That's lovely I knew Raymond had him right today,'' said Fergie as Ruby Walsh executed a flying dismount when returning to winners' enclosure.
Joe Mac collapsed and died when pulling up after the Stanley Cooker Champion Novice Hurdle won in style by Arthur Moore's Native Upmanship which Tommy Treacy sent clear of Colonel Yeager in the home straight.
While punters got it right when partaking in a serious punt on John Hassett's Cork winner Back On Top in the Dunne Insurances Handicap Hurdle, they were reeling after Paul Carberry's younger brother Philip forced Our Bid ahead of the English raider Crocadee to claim the Paddy Power Champion Bumper for local Auctioneer Jimmy McEvoy.