Friday 6 December 2019

Outstanding 'Don' lives up to his name

Noel Fehily emerges unscathed after suffering a crashing fall from Kaki De La Pree at Warwick. Photo: PA
Noel Fehily emerges unscathed after suffering a crashing fall from Kaki De La Pree at Warwick. Photo: PA

Johnny Ward

Eddie Hales was about to get shoes applied to a German-bred recruit in his Dundrum, Co Tipperary stables the guts of a decade ago.

The farrier caught sight of the horse in question. "Jesus Christ," he exclaimed. "What is this?"

Later, Kevin Power rode him work. "Eddie," he imparted. "I've never sat on anything like that."

Hales' judgement is the stuff of renown but, when it came to this son of a one-time 200/1 Irish Derby runner-up Sholokov, "anyone could tell you, it was that obvious".

By May, 2011, he would run in a Punchestown bumper and had a name, Don Cossack, which recalled an ancient tribe of rich military tradition. But the horse, already 17 hands of power, was as yet no disciplined soldier.

Hales jokes: "I got him beat too!" 'The Don' must shoulder the blame, getting over-excited on his first big day out and coming fifth.

Quito De La Roque had landed the preceding Grade One. Hales had sold him to Gigginstown; he and Eddie O'Leary happened into post-bumper conversation.

O'Leary: Have you another one? Hales (shows Don Cossack): Him.

O'Leary said he was the most beautiful horse he'd seen in years.

Deal done. Gordon Elliott would train. Shane McCann would be his work rider. Don Cossack would become Shane's favourite horse of them all even if it wasn't straightforward initially.

"At the start he was cocky, like us all when young. He knew he was good. He was often keen to get rid of you! It was 'hang on to him'. Bobby McNally got a belt in the nose and scars to prove it!"

McCann reckoned he was next to unbeatable in bumpers. He couldn't believe in 2012 when he was held behind the ill-fated Pont Alexandre at Navan. An ugly tumble ended what race he'd left. "That took so much out of him. As a hurdler, he'd problems. His work was as good as ever but he wasn't finishing his races."

People now belittled 'Dog Cossack'. By March 2016, he was Gold Cup favourite. Nobody had more faith than Shane McCann.

"I honestly say I've never been as confident with a horse given his work beforehand. He was the type who knew when he needed to be on his game. Earlier in the season he was doing enough to get by, like as if he knew he didn't need to peak. Nearer Cheltenham he was in another gear. If he were human he'd have a high IQ."

His best day was his last. Gigginstown may be deemed ruthless but would never do any wrong by Don Cossack. Heat in his leg made a call easy. The fiery steed which became a gentleman, in a way, mirrored owner Michael O'Leary's mellowing with age.

Locals told McCann they'd been around for Meath winning All-Irelands, Trim county titles - but never experienced anything in the pub like the roar when he turned into the Cheltenham straight. "I think partly why everyone fell for him was he was so handsome."

Hales can relate. "He'd have been one of those fellows good at every sport - and the birds would've loved him too."

One hopes his new mates at Gigginstown's retirement home of stars are not jealous types.

Another whose resolve has been questioned is Modus, which came good in Saturday's Lanzarote - a big win for Paul Nicholls' title challenge. However, the 7/2 about Colin Tizzard could be value now: remember that Thistlecrack has no Don Cossack to worry about.

McCann says 'The Don' had been working as well as ever. Which was better? We'll never know - though 'The Don' might.


Josh Cartwright at Morphettville in Australia on Saturday, for all the wrong reasons. Look up Youtube. Unbelieveable.


"I dread the thought of it closing."

- Paul Nicholls on plans to sell Kempton, which is to be lost in 2021.


Disappointing to see so few racegoers and press/media at Kempton yesterday. No noise. Apathy, and JCR decision sadly re-inforced.

Journalist Tony Calvin (@tony_calvin).


Luckyinmilan, 11/4 early into 9/10 at Punchestown, despite having no handicap experience and it being an amateur riders' handicap chase. Oliver McKiernan's charge was one of the first beaten.

Upping the ante

There is no doubt that one horse stands out like a foreigner in North Korea in the Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday.

Heartbreak City would probably have won the Melbourne Cup if little but crucial things had gone his way. His was a remarkable effort from his high draw and suggests that Tony Martin may be an even better trainer on the Flat than he is with jumpers.

Perhaps the 3/1 about him winning is big but there are risks attached. How will his unconventional itinerary in recent months affect him now?

The pick at the prices is After Rain, which was 9/2 favourite in the race last year. He gained experience since and seemed to be coming to hand with an eye-catching course-and-trip third over the Christmas.

This would be a career-high win for one of the gents of racing, Shay Barry. After Rain can fulfil his promise.

BET: After Rain to win Hurdle, 1pt each-way 12/1

Champion and pretender are 'total opposites'

There may be an increasing faith in Death Duty's potential as a Gold Cup winner - but his rider at home says he is little like the holder, and his former stablemate, Don Cossack.

Shane McCann was Don Cossack's work rider and, reflecting on his retirement last week, argued that it was "great that he went out at the top".

Death Duty, unbeaten as a novice hurdler, is liable to go chasing next season after tackling the Albert Barlett at Cheltenham in March, for which he is a warm favourite. He may go on to great things but McCann sees little similarities in the pair.

The ex-jockey said: "They are two completely different types; Death Duty is a different stamp of a horse altogether. You wouldn't call him small but he has nothing like the tall frame Don Cossack has. He's more a stocky type. He has a fair engine and is going the right way in everything he does."

McCann's colleague at Gordon Elliott's, Keith Donoghue, was given a four-day ban under for his ride on 11th-placed Westland Row at Punchestown on Saturday.

The horse never got involved and the stewards felt Donoghue did not make enough effort. Elliott said the horse was a nervous type but accepted that he was too far back in the race.

Altior won't run in Saturday's Clarence House Chase, with next month's Betfair Exchange Game Spirit Chase his likely target.

Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: The problem with the Champions Cup, the Stephen Larkham effect and trouble in Welsh rugby

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport