Arvika takes path of least resistance
ROBBED of one of the main attractions with Flemenstar's withdrawal on Saturday, Punchestown's John Durkan Memorial Chase lost further lustre yesterday with the early fall of Sir Des Champs.
The Co Kildare track's feature normally proves hugely informative for the rest of the season, but circumstances conspired against it this time as Arvika Ligeonniere was left to record a facile success from his sole remaining rival, Rubi Light.
It was very much a case of Hamlet without the Prince as Flemenstar's owner Stephen Curran reported on Saturday that his pride and joy had injured himself.
"There's a bit of swelling there, it might not be too serious but we don't really know at this stage," he said of the Tony Martin-trained charge. "We'll see how he is and we'll know more in five or six days. We'll mind him and be patient, and he'll get the time he needs."
With no Flemenstar, Arvika Ligeonniere was backed into 4/7 favouritism for the Grade One and once his stablemate parted company with Davy Russell at the third fence, Ruby Walsh enjoyed an armchair ride as the pair coasted to a nine-length success. "The fences are there to be jumped, but it's very unlike Sir Des Champs to make a mistake like that – that's racing I suppose," Walsh reflected.
"My fella jumped well bar the first down the back. He's got lots of pace and great scope for jumping. If he was mine I'd be inclined to go back in trip."
From what winning owner Rich Ricci had to say after the race, it's odds-on that Arvika Ligeonniere will have his sights set on a couple of two-mile contests.
"It's a shame what happened to Sir Des Champs but he's up and around which is good and it's a pity Flemenstar wasn't here for Punchestown. Our lad was good today and I'm not sure if anything would have beaten him," said Ricci.
"I'm not sure what we will do now, but he seems a different horse this season to me. There's the Dial-A-Bet Chase (Leopardstown, December 27) and a two-five race at Ascot (Betfair Ascot Chase, February 15) coming up. I'd be happy to drop him back. He's more exciting to watch over the shorter distances."
As for Sir Des Champs, Mullins' son and assistant Patrick said the horse was fine and put the tumble down to being "one of those things". The likelihood is that last season's Gold Cup runner-up is now likely to head for the Lexus at Leopardstown.
Following his heavy fall from Sir Des Champs, Russell was stood down for the rest of the afternoon which meant he missed the winning ride aboard the Dessie Hughes-trained Bright New Dawn in the beginners' chase.
Bryan Cooper made the most of the opportunity on the 5/4 favourite. The market leader showed a good aptitude for his new discipline and battled well when challenged by the Mullins representative Dogora.
The second favourite, receiving 12lb, put in a strong bid under Walsh after the last, but Bright New Dawn was always just holding him and prevailed by half a length.
"He had to work hard for it, but I would have been happier if Ruby (on Dogora) had come to me going to the last. I could have done with a bit of company. He was idling, but got the job done," said Cooper.
Cooper and Hughes were completing a double, having struck with Apache Jack, which comfortably justified 5/4 favouritism in the maiden hurdle.
The trainer-jockey combination looked set to claim a treble with Canaly in the Weatherbys Ireland GSB Handicap Chase, but he was caught on the line by Walsh on Daring Article (5/2 favourite).
Earlier, Russell had been on the mark in the opening novice hurdle aboard the Charlie Swan-trained The Game Changer.
The 4/1 shot – a half-brother to Paddy Power winner John's Spirit – cruised into contention behind Aonvarr and Clonard Lad approaching the home bend and once Russell asked his mount to quicken, The Game Changer soon put the issue beyond doubt to win by just over two lengths from Clonard Lad.
To complete another good day for the Mullins' yard, Patrick made all the running in the closing bumper aboard his father's Black Hercules. The well-backed 4/7 favourite beat Cillian's Return by two-and-a-half lengths.