'Ned' nails Footpad in final strides
Donal McInerney was the first man to arrive for duty in Enda Bolger's yard on Christmas morning and he got his just rewards yesterday as Auvergnat (28/1) produced a shock in the €200,000 Paddy Power Chase.
It was a red-letter day for last year's champion conditional jockey as the 24-year-old enjoyed a beautiful spin on Bolger's eight-year-old to secure a seventh success in the lucrative Leopardstown contest for JP McManus.
With owner, trainer and jockey all hailing from Limerick, it capped another memorable sporting day in 2018 for the Treaty and a "pleasant surprise" for Bolger that was "going to be well celebrated" last night.
The money flooded in for another of McManus's eight runners, with Ted Walsh's Any Second Now going off 5/1 favourite, but he could only muster fifth as Auvergnat produced a lifetime best to turn McInerney's fortunes around.
The Herbertstown native looked set for victory aboard The Ballyboys on St Stephen's Day at Limerick only for Ray Hackett's charge to run out at the second last but that was quickly forgotten on his finest day in the saddle.
A beaming Bolger, renowned as a banks specialist, had no hesitation in stating that "this is where we want to be" after his most high-profile victory as a trainer, with Auvergnat cut to 6/1 for next March's cross-country chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
There was a sombre footnote to the feature race for McManus, however, as 2016 Irish Gold Cup winner Carlingford Lough died of a suspected heart attack just after finishing 12th under Barry Geraghty.
Mark Walsh was the other man of the moment at the Foxrock track, securing a 177.5/1 treble spearheaded by the victory of Simply Ned (16/1) as he stunned Willie Mullins' Footpad in the Grade One Paddy's Rewards Club 'Sugar Paddy' Chase.
Nicky Richards' stable star continued his love affair with Leopardstown to sensationally catch Footpad (Evens favourite) in the last 100 yards and secure back-to-back victories for the English raider, with the 11-year-old now boasting form figures of 3-2-2-1-1 in his five efforts in the Grade One.
"We train him for this end of the season. We try and catch the real big guns maybe a bit cold. No doubt these lads will all go on to Cheltenham and be battling at Punchestown.
"We've had our Gold Cup and had our day in the sun today which is absolutely great," Richards said.
Footpad - now an 8/1 shot for the Champion Chase behind Altior (2/5 favourite) - looked home and hosed jumping the last but seemed to stop in front and Mullins later questioned whether he needed the run much more than he had expected.
"I wonder did he just need it. He missed a bit of time with that over-reach (injury) after his last race and Ruby (Walsh) thought that he might have actually blown up," Mullins said.
"Hopefully he did as I thought he had the race won going to the last. I was delighted to see he was back jumping the way he jumped last year and we won't be changing any plans."
Grade One compensation awaited the Closutton maestro with the breath-taking victory of Aramon (6/1) in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle for the Supreme Racing Club.
Stablemate Sancta Simona (5/2 favourite) looked a big danger at the last but the Ruby Walsh-ridden Aramon crushed that rival with an "unbelievable" run-in to score by 10 lengths and shorten significantly for next year's Supreme (14/1 from 33s).
Joseph O'Brien's Flat recruit Sir Erec (11/10 favourite) was far from fluent in the opening maiden hurdle but eventually got the hang of things to edge Mullins' Tiger Tap Tap (5/2) - the smart pair pulling well clear to kick off Mark Walsh's treble.
Sir Erec was cut to 10/1 from 16/1 for the Triumph Hurdle after that effort while Walsh continued his winning ways with Henry de Bromhead's Paloma Blue (4/1) - now a 14/1 shot for the Arkle - defying a number of sketchy jumps to get off the mark over fences at his second attempt.
Sean O'Keeffe gave Jessica Harrington's Jetez (11/1) a confident ride to land the penultimate handicap hurdle while Finian Maguire made it two from two in Bumpers this week to score on Dermot Weld's Neptune (7/1) as 16,439 began to stream out after a tough day for punters.