Wednesday 21 February 2018

Golden moment a reminder anything is possible

Samcro, with Jack Kennedy up, clear the last on their way to winning at Leopardstown. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Samcro, with Jack Kennedy up, clear the last on their way to winning at Leopardstown. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

The ability of sport to throw up something special never ceases to amaze and as the brave Edwulf stuck his head in front in the shadows of the winning post at Leopardstown yesterday, it was hard not to recall Al Michaels' famous commentary 'Do you believe in miracles? Yes.'

Michaels was summing up the extraordinary finish to the 'Miracle on Ice' as the US ice hockey team stunned the hotly-fancied Soviet Union side at the 1980 Winter Olympics - forever enshrined in sporting history after being turned into a feature-length film - and perhaps Edwulf's remarkable story will be similarly celebrated.

Unbelievable is a word often thrown around in sporting contexts but regularly the feats being described are more than believable, but for 33/1 shot Edwulf to defy death, make it back to the racecourse and win the Unibet Irish Gold Cup is scarcely credible.

Usually if a horse is stricken and lying on its side for 40 minutes like Edwulf was that March afternoon, it is highly unlikely to survive. The horse's heartbeat jumped wildly, he started to have a fit after likely oxygen starvation to the brain and suffered internal bleeding similar to the fatal injury suffered by the great Many Clouds.

Far too often the negative narrative around racing and the inhumanity of how some horses are put down after career-ending injuries is spouted but Edwulf's survival was testament to the skill, dedication and professionalism of Cheltenham's veterinary team who battled for over an hour to save his life.

Theatre

Joseph O'Brien's nine-year-old repaid their care in style, a victory for racing and racing theatre at its finest as the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival etched its place in equine folklore.

Outsider of 10 before the off, the 'Miracle Horse' will return to the Cotswolds next month for a tilt at the Gold Cup before the Aintree Grand National.

Edwulf is unlikely to give JP McManus another blue-riband winner but what a day in the sun it was in Foxrock with amateur jockey Derek O'Connor getting just desserts for an outstanding career in the saddle.

Killultagh Vic took a crushing fall at the last and it would have been heartbreaking had Willie Mullins' chaser not returned to his feet but thankfully he did, and if it doesn't leave any permanent scars, the talented but fragile chaser may be the one to follow from the race in an open Gold Cup.

It was business as usual for Mullins - who took a huge chunk out of Gordon Elliott's lead at the head of the Irish trainers' championship with seven winners from 15 races - but the realisation that we may have already witnessed the best of Faugheen hit hard in Saturday's BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle.

There was an audible groan when Supasundae - running for Jessica Harrington to "sharpen him up" for the three-mile Stayers' Hurdle next month - strode past him to prevail. The real 'Machine' would have put him firmly in his place.

Time waits for no man (or horse), however, and barring a rejuvenation, the 10-year-old will be no match for reigning champion Buveur d'Air next month should he take his place.

Faugheen's bubble may have burst but others doubled in size. Samcro might not be "the next coming of Jesus Christ" as owner Michael O'Leary says but racing folk have latched on to him and he's the new kid in town.

Elliott only had one winner over the two days but his brilliant six-year-old enhanced his already flawless reputation to laugh at a quality field. The racing world is his oyster and while it's some time away, his chasing career is already a tantalising prospect.

Another to leave his mark was Footpad - a horse that attacks his fences with a zest that exemplifies everything people love in National Hunt racing.

There was no backward step, no hesitation, but as good as he is, Petit Mouchoir is likely to be a lot closer if the pair renew acquaintances next month.

That's another duel to savour as the Cheltenham heat turns up.

Punter's Pal

Half an hour before Saturday's opener the odds had shifted markedly with Carter McKay (2/1 favourite) usurping Dortmund Park (3/1) at the top of the betting but by the off a spectacular gamble on Fabulous Saga ensured Willie Mullins' runner went off favourite (7/4). Paul Townend's mount faded badly after blazing a trail at the front and similarly, Yorkhill went from odds-on to odds against in a matter of minutes (went off 7/4) in the next before finishing tailed off behind stable-mate and favourite Min in a truly bizarre sequence of betting.

Ride of the weekend

Katie Walsh's ride on Relegate in the final race of the Dublin Racing Festival displayed subtle genius as she stole three lengths on the field turning in for home. Nina Carberry was cruising on the aptly-named Getaway Katie Mai and came with a late run but the bird had already flown and having stolen a crucial march, Walsh was able to galvanise Mullins' mount on the run to score. Proof that timing is everything.

Tweet of the week

"Hats off to all those responsible for organising the great new Dublin festival. Two days of the best National Hunt racing ever seen in Ireland."

- Trainer Tony Mullins sums up the sentiments around the country after 26,136 came through the gates at Leopardstown in the past two days to watch a feast of equine brilliance which can only get bigger and better in years to come.

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