Defy Logic makes it a special day for Nolan at Leopardstown
Champagne Fever hits second-last hard to hand initiative to Paul Nolan runner
Jockey Mark Walsh onboard Defy Logic clears the last fence on his way to winning the Racing Post Novice Steeplechase on day one of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Any presumption that the St Stephen’s Day action would turn into a Willie Mullins benefit got resoundingly turned on its head at Leopardstown yesterday as Defy Logic delivered the most resounding blow to the champion trainer in the Grade One feature.
A mistake by Mullins’s odds-on favourite Champagne Fever at the second-last fence of the Racing Post Novice Chase gave Defy Logic a decisive edge in the €85,000 highlight and the Paul Nolan-trained star took full advantage to beat Trifolium in style with the 8/15 favourite struggling home in third.
Even with a first-race success for the long odds-on Clondaw Court, it was still a rare day of reverses for the Mullins team, the worst of which came in the Grade Two Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle as the 3/10 favourite Analifet had to be pulled up injured before halfway. As Guitar Pete strode on to victory, it briefly looked like the worst possible outcome for Analifet but veterinary examination found that she had sustained a pelvic injury.
“She’ll be okay. We’ll give her about 12 weeks of standing in her box, so she’ll have a long rest,” said Mullins who was also philosophical about Champagne Fever’s reverse. “He made one mistake. He jumped great up to then, and got great experience. But he just got beaten by two good horses.”
The sight of Defy Logic and Champagne Fever winging their way around Leopardstown in a rare speed-duel will be one of the lingering images of the festival. Even after a slight mistake at the third last, Defy Logic was back on terms by the next fence when his rival made a more serious error.
Any prospect of a repeat clash will be a mouth-watering one for many fans, although Paul Nolan was anxious to savour the moment rather than look too far ahead.
“He’s a big horse that hits the ground hard and I just hope he’s okay in the morning,” said the Wexford trainer who, however, didn’t downplay any talk of Cheltenham, pointing out he believes his stable star is better racing left-handed, and isn’t likely to be inconvenienced by the ground at the festival in March.
Nolan initiated a valuable double in the other chase as King Vuvuzela kept in touch enough throughout a fiercely-run contest to bring his stamina into play when it counted. With a handful in line jumping the last it was King Vuvuzela that powered away best.
“Bryan [Cooper] gave him a great ride. They went such a pace you felt they should stop in front and they did,” Nolan said.
Cooper doubled up himself on board Guitar Pete who may yet emerge as a Triumph Hurdle candidate in his own right.
“He doesn’t have the speed of Our Conor but he stays well and I think he’s smart,” said Dessie Hughes after Guitar Pete got the better of Clarcam up the straight after Analifet’s exit.
“We felt he’d improved from Cheltenham and if he improves again he could be good enough to go back. He does jump well.”
Western Boy sprang a mild 12/1 surprise in the second of the maiden hurdles, but there looked to be no fluke about how powered clear of the 25/1 shot Kylestyle.
“Pat [Fahy] gave him a chance and even though I got to the front early enough in fairness to him he quickened up well,” said jockey David Casey.
Clondaw Court landed the odds in the other maiden, but only just, and may not have at all if Little Rocky had been quicker at the final flight, but there was no doubt about the well-backed Sea Light who turned a competitive handicap hurdle into a solo from the last to give Davy Russell his 1,000th National Hunt winner.
“He’s in here again on Sunday, but . . . soft ground would be a worry,” said winning trainer Charles Byrnes.