Pont Alexandre lowers Don Cossack's flag
A German-bred duly landed yesterday’s Grade One Navan feature: just not the one expected, as Pont Alexandre put up a stunning first appearance in Ireland to leave Don Cossack backers gasping for air.
The odds-on favourite was left pretty much gasping too in the Navan Novice Hurdle, well beaten by the last flight when hitting the deck a couple of strides after the final obstacle.
Don Cossack’s eclipse completed a dire hat-trick for jockey Davy Russell, who also took crashing falls in the first two races and was left sporting a bandage on his chin that could have double-jobbed on Don Cossack’s tarnished reputation.
“He was labouring, flat out down the back-straight,” said a disappointed Gordon Elliott. “He wasn’t at his best. And he’s stiff and sore after it, but maybe the winner is very good.”
Ground conditions were so tough that Ruby Walsh struggled to describe them but Pont Alexandre made it look easy with an all-the-way success that, in hindsight, made it easy to understand Willie Mullins’s decision to pitch his French import into top-flight company.
Winning the weekend feature brought up the fastest century of winners in a season for the champion trainer.
“I fell in love with him on that first day. There were plenty fellas planning to buy him but I rang my owner and told him I’d seen as lovely a looking horse as I’d ever seen. It was a huge price but we just gave it and took him home,” said Mullins.
Walsh rode Pont Alexandre in preference to the other Mullins runner Reine Angevine.
Pont Alexandre has now replaced Don Cossack as favourite in antepost lists for the Neptune and Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham in March.
“He was doing things nicely at home but you always have a little worry about them having their first run over these hurdles and it was always going to be a worry going in a Grade One,” said Walsh. “In fairness to Willie he stuck his neck out to buy him . . . it was a good call.”
There will be no Christmas outing for Pont Alexandre but Mullins confirmed Cheltenham is the plan, with a longer-term aim of fences next season.
“He looks like he should make a real chaser . . . and he does act on that heavy ground,” said Mullins. “From what I can tell there’s no jar in it there anyway!”
Mikael D’Haguenet won yesterday’s race in 2008 en route to a sparkling success in the Neptune Investments Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham and some bookmakers have gone as low as 6-1 about the latest Mullins import from France following suit.
“We won’t go back in trip, but the Deloitte is 2¼ so I might do that. He’ll probably stay at 2½ and I wouldn’t be afraid of three miles. It will either be the Neptune or Albert Bartlett in March,” said Mullins. “If we’d gone for a Grade Two or Three we would have met the same horses except for Don Cossack. So I just wanted the run out of the way to find out how good he is. He showed us today.”