Samcro backs up the hype
Meath trainer plunders 469/1 treble but still trails Mullins as Irish raiders make hay with six winners on day two
Your luck can change in the blink of an eye in racing and after heading to bed at half past nine on Tuesday evening following a draining and disappointing opening day, Gordon Elliott was back to his irresistible best yesterday with a 469/1 treble.
The pressure valve was released early with Samcro (8/11 favourite) in the Grade One Ballymore Novices' Hurdle as one of the most hyped National Hunt horses in recent years delivered on the game's biggest stage in the hands of ice-cool Kerry teenager Jack Kennedy.
Deemed one of the bankers of the Festival, the Gigginstown House Stud runner gave a scintillating performance (despite losing his right fore shoe) much to the relief of his trainer, who believes the racing world is now his oyster with future options open.
"There was a lot of pressure - for Jack, for me and for the whole team - so I am delighted. He's a big idle devil and just does what he has to do. We are very lucky to have him and I wouldn't be afraid to bring him back in trip," a relieved Elliott said.
"He has loads of pace and he only comes awake when the race starts to get going. He's proved his class and he has the class and speed to stay over hurdles. Michael (O'Leary) likes having chasers so we'll have a chat before making any decision."
Kennedy would love to see him jump a fence with a possible Gold Cup tilt down the line. "He is definitely a chaser in the making. I wouldn't mind what he does in future, but I would love to ride him over a fence. I've not ridden many good ones, but he's the best."
The 18-year-old secured a double through 33/1 outsider Veneer Of Charm in the Grade Three Fred Winter Hurdle and there were more jubilant scenes when Keith Donoghue claimed his first Festival winner aboard Tiger Roll (7/1) in the Cross Country Chase.
Now a three-time Festival winner, Tiger Roll gave the Meath jockey - who lost seven pounds yesterday morning to take the mount and runs up to 50 miles every week to keep his weight down - a great spin.
With an ongoing battle against the scales which has jeopardised his riding career, Donoghue (lauded by Elliott as an essential part of his Cullentra team) was rightly emotional in the aftermath.
"It's a dream come true," the 24-year-old said. "I've really struggled with my weight, and I missed the ride on Labaik (which won the Supreme Novices' Hurdle) here last year because I couldn't do the weight. That was very hard to take. But this definitely makes up for it.
"I've given up three or four times because of my weight, but Gordon always pulls me back and gives me rides where I can do the weight. If it wasn't for Gordon, I wouldn't be standing here. This day last year I was 12-and-a-half stone; today I'm 11 stone two."
As for Elliott, celebrations were in order for the hugely popular Meath trainer after a dry Tuesday. "Last night I was trying to get a Ryanair flight home and in bed by half past nine. It won't be the same tonight!" he joked.
Despite his hat-trick heroics, Elliott still trails Willie Mullins by two winners in his battle to retain the Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award with Mullins now on five for the week and just one behind Nicky Henderson in the all-time Festival winners list on 59.
The strength in depth of his Closutton team was brought into focus once again with Mark Walsh securing his first Festival winner - picked up as a result of Ruby Walsh's injury when falling on Al Boum Photo in the RSA Chase - on 20/1 shot Bleu Berry in the Coral Cup.
Mullins then dominated the Grade One Champion Bumper with his five runners - led home by Katie Walsh on Relegate (25/1) - finishing first, second, third, fifth and seventh as he secured an astonishing ninth success in the concluding race.
On a difficult day for the Walsh family after Ruby's fall, Katie gave a masterclass aboard the mare to secure her third Festival win and edge out Carefully Selected (a horse she previously bought and rode to point-to-point success before selling).
A tearful Katie said: "I'm torn a bit. I really appreciate days like this but I just feel sorry for Ruby. Once we were round the corner behind the screens and he was up and talking to me, that's the main thing."
It wasn't all rosy in the garden for Mullins, however, with the returning Douvan hitting the deck in the Champion Chase four from home when travelling sweetly but stablemate Min did give a career-best performance to chase home the brilliant winner Altior as 58,932 spectators watched on.
"I thought he had done enough to show that he was back to himself. He was absolutely cantering, jumping great and I thought he was jumping so well and then he over-jumped and just caught the top of it," Mullins said of star chaser Douvan.
"It was a huge positive from my point of view looking at how he ran. Horse and rider (son Patrick) are fine so he could go to the Punchestown yet."