Russell savours sweet success aboard gritty Sir Des Champs
Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Sir Des Champs proved a willing partner for Davy Russell as the exquisite champion jockey put a frustrating few weeks behind him to secure a determined triumph in yesterday's Tote.com Gold Cup at Punchestown.
Russell was denied the chance to partner Willie Mullins' classy seven-year-old at Cheltenham after being diagnosed with a punctured lung the day before.
He then missed out on First Lieutenant and Solwhit's Grade One wins at Aintree when British racing's medical experts contradicted their Turf Club counterparts by refusing him permission to ride until he has undergone surgery, but First Lieutenant was among those that Sir Des Champs saw off to prevail in this absorbing three-miler.
Gold Cup third Long Run set an honest gallop, and fought back stubbornly to push the eventual winner to three-parts of a length, with First Lieutenant running on gamely on the inside a half-length back in third.
Sam Waley-Cohen, who performed a Simon Zebo-esque manoeuvre to catch his whip in the backhand position after it sprung into the air after the second-last, switched Long Run to the stands rail approaching the final fence, and was slightly impeded when Sir Des Champs jumped to its left.
A stewards' inquiry followed, but the regulators were satisfied that Sir Des Champs legitimately confirmed the Prestbury Park form over Nicky Henderson's charge.
Having won the Hennessy in February, it was a glorious swansong for the star of Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown operation. It also amounted to a change of fortune for Mullins, given that many of his Cheltenham runners have been misfiring.
"The way some of them have been running was a worry," he conceded after his second winner of the week, "but this fellow looked big beforehand. He ran his heart out."
Trimmed to 5/1 to bridge the gap with Henderson's Cheltenham hero Bobs Worth in 2014, Sir Des Champs hit a brief flat spot turning out of the back. However, he responded kindly to Russell's urgings, and wasn't headed after leading three-out.
The 2/1 market leader knuckled down in the testing ground to give the Youghal man his first win in the €90,000 contest, 11 years after Florida Pearl gave Mullins his first.
"I missed Grade One winners and they are important, so it is nice to get one back," admitted Russell after he stretched his lead over Ruby Walsh in the championship race to eight. "Mentally this horse must be tough to come back like that after Cheltenham."
On a day of determined victories, Morning Assembly refused to be denied when Inish Island challenged on the run to the last in the three-mile Grade One novice hurdle.
Despite touching down in front, Paul Townend's mount failed to go on, as Morning Assembly found more for the former champion jockey's first cousin Davy Condon to land a tidy gamble, returning a 14/1 SP after opening at 20/1 on-course.
Condon completed a 194/1 double when Tom Mullins' Klepht took the Guinness Handicap Chase at 12/1, but this was a particularly welcome fillip for Pat Fahy's Leighlinbridge stable, it being just his third win of a trying campaign.
"That's great because things have just not been happening this season," Fahy said of his third win at the highest level, the first coming when Butches Boy recorded a famous win in the day's showpiece event in 1995. "He'll definitely go chasing next season."
With Cheltenham winner Briar Hill absent due to being lame, The Liquidator, fourth there, took advantage under an inspired Jane Mangan in the Betdaq Champion Bumper. David Pipe's 4/1 shot was a second of the week for Mangan and the raiders.
Beau Michael defied odds of 25/1 to cling on in the Martinstown Opportunity Hurdle for David Splaine and Ado McGuinness, while the Louis Fitzgerald Hurdle also saw Sabrina Harty's Dalasiri (6/1) grind out a dogged success.
Following the sunshine and Sprinter Sacre-generated hysteria of day one, a slightly more modest attendance clocked in at 16,410 on a showery evening. That represented a 42pc increase on last year's sodden equivalent, though it was down 5pc on 2011.