Tank rolls over rivals to cash in for Connell
Owner eyes Cheltenham for Fenton star as Jezki fails to impress despite victory
On a grey Fairyhouse weekend that saw Barry Connell's massive spending begin to reap real dividends, The Tullow Tank justified a €7,500 supplementary entry fee for the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle with a thoroughly convincing triumph under Danny Mullins.
The established superpowers of JP McManus and Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud took one each of the two other Grade Ones on yesterday's marquee card to reaffirm a sense of normality. Connell isn't in their league just yet but he is narrowing the gap.
Since hanging up his amateur riding boots, the popular Carrickmines-based fund manager has invested heavily in an attempt to bulk up the quality of his string.
His acquisitions include a raft of precocious six-figure purchases, with Dessie Hughes' runaway Triumph Hurdle hero Our Conor reputed to have been brought into the team for upwards of €1m.
The Tullow Tank will have commanded a more modest price tag when he was bought from Irish international rugby star Sean O'Brien and friend Paul Duffin after finishing second in a point-to-point in March 2012. However, he has progressed apace since for Philip Fenton.
Victory in this two-miler was The Tullow Tank's third on the spin, and he again showed a potent turn of foot to collar long-time leader Renneti after touching down at the last flight.
As was the case at Naas previously, 21-year-old Mullins, riding just his second Grade One winner, never resorted to picking up his whip, trusting his mount to eventually find enough.
The exciting five-year-old did just that, obliging by half a length at odds of 5/1 on the prevailing decent ground.
"He is a good horse and proved it today," admitted the wily Carrick-on-Suir-based Fenton, who won the €75,000 contest with Dunguib in 2009.
"He jumped a bit big, but it is all a learning experience. I thought he would come on a lot from his run at Naas, so I was happy to pay the money to supplement him for this."
Connell, whose smart novice chaser Foxrock was the second leg of a double for him and Mullins on Saturday, subsequently expressed an ambition to see The Tullow Tank develop into a Cheltenham Festival contender in March.
Fenton – who went on to complete a near 19/1 double on the day with Value At Risk (9/4) in the bumper, has similar aspirations – but explained that his new stable star's tendency to jump right might complicate things.
"We might go for the Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown in January next. He goes to his right a bit, so that would give us an idea of whether or not Cheltenham will suit."
As for his bumper winner, Fenton remarked: "He could be a very good horse and we'll just stick to bumpers with him this season."
As for the rest of the Willie Mullins contingent in the Royal Bond, Renetti's stablemate Arctic Fire came through from the rear to grab third, with the champion trainer's Alonso disappointing badly and unable to land a blow in fourth.
Mullins' Gigginstown-owned Analifet (3/10 favourite) was promoted to 10/1 favouritism for the Triumph Hurdle after making all under Ruby Walsh to impressively see off fellow Closutton representative Noble Inn in the opening Grade Three, but none of the three Bar One Racing-sponsored Grade Ones fell his way.
In the showpiece Hatton's Grace Hurdle, McManus' Jessica Harrington-trained Jezki was sent off at prohibitive odds of 4/6 under AP McCoy. He delivered, but won't have won over too many new fans in the process, as he was clumsy over the last two flights before seeing off the late challenge of Mullins' 2012 winner Zaidpour by most of two lengths.
"He wasn't paying attention, that's why he made a nonsense of the last. I don't think AP even had to hit him," Harrington explained after her first success in the €80,000 two-and-a-half-miler.
"The horse going off miles in front is not good for the nerves, but he made the ground up easy. He proved he gets two and a half miles and that's the main thing, but he'd be better over a fast-run two miles. He's definitely better going left-handed and we'll keep him at two miles.
"The owner has got My Tent Or Yours as well, so I suppose it will all depend what they want to do."
McCoy echoed the comments he made after scoring on McManus' My Tent Or Yours the previous afternoon.
"It was a good enough performance. He's done it pretty well and was very professional, but we all have to improve to beat Hurricane Fly. I think they can, but Hurricane Fly is one of the best hurdlers ever so he is the one to beat."
Mullins also took third spot with the runaway leader Diakali as Rule The World was one-paced in fourth.
For all that Jezki's performance left the layers unmoved – he is largely unchanged at 8/1 for the Champion Hurdle – in winning he clocked a time that was just seven-tenths of a second outside Large Action's 1996 record of 4 mins 49.8 seconds.
Unusually, Mullins didn't have a runner in the Drinmore Novice Chase – a race that saw Gordon Elliott's Don Cossack land the sort of prize he has long promised to with a game display under Davy Russell.
McCoy looked in command here when he sent Carlingford Lough on two-out, but Russell's 13/8 favourite found the reserves that seemed absent in the past to collar the Galway Plate winner halfway up the run-in in the two-and-a-half-miler.
"Punchestown just knocked the edge off him," Elliott said of Gigginstown's classy six-year-old's reappearance defeat to Morning Assembly. "He's a smashing big horse that I've liked all along. He won't go anywhere over Christmas and I'm not sure he's an out-and-out three-miler, so I don't really know what we'll do with him yet."
Morning Assembly's handler Pat Fahy got in the winner's enclosure himself when Thelobstercatcher (7/1) saw off all-comers to land the marathon handicap chase – holding off Ipsos Du Berlais by two lengths in determined fashion for David Casey.
"I said I'd wait to put the blinkers on him when we got a good pot and it couldn't have worked out better as he was so sweet today," said Fahy. "I'll see what he gets but I wouldn't mind going for some of the big handicaps if we can get into them. I'd love to go for the Thyestes and even to come back here."
The mares' equivalent went to She's Got Grit at the same 7/1 odds for Co Cork duo Terence O'Brien and Adrian Heskin.