Pointing the route to National Hunt glory
Paddy Power Gold Cup winner Annacotty is the latest hot prospect to emerge from the Irish point-to-point circuit
Cheltenham Gold Cup winners such as Best Mate, War of Attrition and Denman and Aintree Grand National winners Monty's Pass, Bindaree and Silver Birch are all well-known in National Hunt circles worldwide, but few may know that their careers over fences began far from Prestbury Park on the Irish point-to-point field.
Take Best Mate, for example. Purchased for a modest sum of 2,500 guineas as a foal in 1996 by the late Tom Costello, as a four-year-old he went on to win on only his second run in a point-to-point in Tuam before being snapped up for an undisclosed sum by Henrietta Knight and Terry Biddlecombe.
The rest, they say, is history with a King George VI Chase and three Cheltenham Gold Cups to his credit before his untimely death at the age of 10 in 2005.
While fellow Gold Cup winners War of Attrition and Denman have since retired and are enjoying life in the field, there are dozens more horses who have taken their place in the realms of National Hunt racing, and both Annacotty and A Hare Breath are just two Irish point-to-point graduates who have recently added their names to the list of autumn Cheltenham winners for 2015.
Previously trained in Carlow by Willie Murphy and now in the UK, both horses were hugely impressive at the recent two-day meeting, with A Hare Breath landing the Opus Energy Novices' Handicap Hurdle after two-year absence from the track and Annacotty winning the £160,000 (€228,000) Paddy Power Gold Cup.
Bred by Martin Byrne, A Hare Breath was not a quick-starter and it was some time before the son of Murphy's own stallion Alkaadhem began to shine.
"I got him as a three-year-old to break but he was a rather backward four-year-old," Murphy said of the now seven-year-old gelding who was pulled up on his first two starts at Dromahane and Laurencetown. "That was in the spring of his four-year-old year so we put him away and ran him again in early 2013."
That indeed proved a wise decision as he proved a convincing winner at Bennettsbridge to beat stablemate Walk On Al.