Bourgeois bolts up for Hughes and set for RSA
Acapella Bourgeois emerged as a serious RSA Chase candidate with a sensational, front-running performance, earning by far the biggest cheer from the crowd under Roger Loughran on a relatively mild day at Navan.
Owned by the Slaneyville Syndicate, which includes Hardy Eustace's owner Lar Byrne, the Network-bred produced arguably the best staying performance by a novice chaser all season, destroying his rivals by 32 lengths for Sandra Hughes.
The trainer could not stop smiling afterwards and was happy to admit she "potentially had a Gold Cup horse" on her hands in the 7/2 winner.
"The only thing is he loves that really testing ground. From the first day he's been in the yard, basically nobody rides this horse except Roger," Hughes said.
Despite the incredible effort, Acapella Bourgeois is still 16/1 for the RSA Chase, the layers perhaps feeling that this flattered him. Others go 10/1.
"He's in the RSA and you'd have to say after today we would be travelling, but we'll see what the ground is. If it came up very good, which you never know at Cheltenham, he might give it a miss," Hughes added.
Cheltenham clues were otherwise few and far between and connections of Sutton Place are thinking further into the future. Sent off 4/6, JP McManus' son of Mahler was apparently in trouble for much of the concluding half-mile of the Boyle Hurdle. He was still niggled at the second-last by Barry Geraghty.
Between that flight and the last, the class of the novice shone and he quickened smartly, going away up the climb to beat stablemate De Plotting Shed by three lengths and three parts.
Clearly, this steed is more than smart enough to be considered a major Grade One fancy at Cheltenham - or at least he would be if connections were not against the idea.
Gordon Elliott said: "He's a nice horse, a big chaser in the making. I'd say that ground just wasn't ideal, but he showed his class.
"We were riding him maybe a little negatively with the trip. Barry said he's a horse that you'd be better off grabbing a hold of and riding a race. He was a bit sloppy with his jumping because we wanted him relaxed.
"Chasing will be his game and whatever he does this year will be a bonus. There isn't a whole lot for him and we might look at the race in Fairyhouse for him, but he won't go to Cheltenham."
It was compensation for Geraghty, backed into 13/8 from 9/4 with Ladbrokes to be top Cheltenham jockey and who still had Ballyoisin in the lead when he crashed out at the third-last in the Flyingbolt Novice Chase. This left the Elliott-trained Ball D'Arc to coast home at 6/4.
"Bryan (Cooper) said he was travelling, but for me they were travelling as well as each other. We might look at the Ryanair Gold Cup in Fairyhouse for him," Elliott said.
Identity Thief (lame) was scratched. Connections are worried about going to Cheltenham with a novice which failed to complete either of his two starts, but it has not been ruled out.
Gillian Callaghan struck with Mad Brian (12/1) in the handicap hurdle. He could go to the Midlands National at Uttoxeter.
Sandra Hughes was not the only popular woman trainer to enjoy a winner, as Sneezy Foster scoring in the handicap hurdle with Miles To Memphis (25/1). On a reasonably good day for the layers, Miss Mardan (11/4) upset hot favourite Broken Soul in the first, though there was reprieve in the bumper for punters when 2/7 Poli Roi completed a treble for Elliott.
He cost £300,000 at the sales, a figure comparable to Elliott's lead over Willie Mullins in the trainers' table. Having greeted the weekend €274,338 ahead of Mullins, the lead now stands at €334,568. Paddy Power now goes 2/5 Elliott for his first title.