O'Brien's star continues to shine bright
There's rarely a major race day that goes by without Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott hogging the headlines but it was young pretender Joseph O'Brien who stole their thunder at Leopardstown yesterday.
Be it on the Flat or over jumps, O'Brien's star continues to soar and Le Richebourg (3/1) left a lasting impression when running away with the sole Grade One of the day, the Racing Post Novice Chase.
With the JP McManus-owned five-year-old gaining lengths at every fence - except for a little hiccup at the last - Mark Walsh oozed confidence throughout to come home four-and-a-half lengths to the good.
It was a 1-2 for O'Brien with Us And Them (16/1) back in second, while Mullins' Voix Du Reve (9/4) and Elliott's Mengli Khan (7/4 favourite) were unable to land a blow in third and fourth respectively.
Having been just touched off in the Drinmore by Elliott's Delta Work over 2m 4f, the drop back to 2m 1f brought out the best in Le Richebourg with O'Brien eyeing a tilt at the Arkle in March - for which he is now 9/1.
"The last day he ran a cracker, but the ground he was making up at his fences we were having to give it away at the back of them and the tempo of a two-mile race probably suited him better," the 25-year-old Kilkenny trainer said.
"He always has been exciting and we thought he was a high-class hurdler. He was good but probably disappointed us slightly and he's been very good over fences."
Next on the agenda is a return to Leopardstown for the Dublin Racing Festival in February, while that is also the plan for surprise Grade Two Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle winner Rocky Blue (14/1).
It was no shock to see a Mullins victorious but the names were different than normal with David Mullins taking advantage of a final-hurdle fall from Elliott's luckless Coeur Sublime (3/1 joint-favourite) to score for his father Tom.
That heavy fall saw Bryan Cooper stood down for six days due to concussion as Rocky Blue, an €11,000 purchase as a yearling, put some heavy dents in many big reputations, including Willie Mullins' La Sorelita (3/1 joint-favourite).
"We always thought he was good, but he took his time to come. He learned a lot in Punchestown, where he only jumped the last two hurdles, and we felt if he jumped adequate he would improve a lot on that," winning trainer Tom Mullins said.
The day started off on a familiar note, with Willie Mullins scoring in the opening maiden hurdle through Klassical Dream (5/2) as Paul Townend brought his tally for the season to 70 - two ahead of main rival Rachael Blackmore - but the Closutton dominance was halted for one day at least.
Seven different trainers were on the mark - amazingly Elliott wasn't one of them - with Walsh riding a 10.5/1 double as City Island backed up his performance at the Galway Festival to score for former Grand National-winning trainer Martin Brassil.
Having subsequently lost the Galway win after a banned substance was found in his sample post-race, City Island (15/8 fav) has edged one step closer to booking his place in the Ballymore at Cheltenham- a race sponsored by his owners Sean and Bernardine Mulryan for which he was introduced as a 50/1 shot.
Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen was among those celebrating City Island's success in the parade ring, while Jessica Harrington's Exit Poll (10/1) gave winning connections further cause for celebration by taking the concluding Bumper in the Mulryan silks.
Finian Maguire's mount lowered some lofty price tags in the process, while Tisamystery (6/1) showed his love for Leopardstown once again with back-to-back handicap chase victories under Daniel Holden for the red-hot Henry de Bromhead.
There was no happier man among the 13,218 crowd which went through the gates than Longford handler Paul Flynn after "stable star" Try Again (8/1) captured the two-mile novice handicap hurdle in good style under Jack Kennedy, with Flynn quick to dub himself "the best trainer in Longford, I'm the only one."