Last Instalment makes his comeback complete with victory in Hennessy Gold Cup
Philip Fenton-trained gelding gallops on strongly to score by eight and a half lengths from Tidal Bay
Last Instalment and Brian O’Connell on their way to victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup Chase at Leopardstown yesterday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
One of racing’s oldest clichés is that ‘they never come back’ but Last Instalment tore that to shreds with the same aplomb he tore apart his Hennessy Gold Cup opposition at Leopardstown yesterday and is now set to finally get a shot at Cheltenham glory in four weeks time.
Whether or not Last Instalment gets the chance to justify general 8/1 odds in the Cheltenham Gold Cup will depend largely on if he pulls out of his stable sound this morning, hardly a ‘gimme’ for a horse that spent the most of two years on the injury sidelines with two separate bouts of leg trouble.
That trainer Philip Fenton has successfully brought him back to a level that looks even better than when Last Instalment put together back-to-back Grade One wins as a novice is so little short of miraculous that both sentiment and hard-headed analysis now encourage hopes that Ireland has a genuine contender for the race which matters most to most steeplechase fans.
Such a view will only be encouraged by Fenton’s post-race observation that he expects even more improvement from a horse that only returned to action three weeks previously.
It was doubts about a quick reappearance, and a possible ‘bounce factor’ that helped Bryan Cooper choose First Lieutenant over Last Instalment yesterday, a call that back-fired badly on Gigginstown Stud’s new rider as the 7/4 favourite struggled into third, a full nine lengths behind the horse carrying Michael O’Leary’s second colours.
The result compounded a miserable day for Cooper who finished runner-up in two other Grade One races, and picked up a six-day ban for careless riding in one of them after being adjudged guilty of careless riding on Don Cossack in the Dr PJ Moriarty Novice Chase. Cooper said he will appeal the suspension.
It was another Brian, Brian O’Connell, who stepped in for the spare ride on Last Instalment and maintained a perfect four-from-four record on the horse that has stretched Fenton’s patience to the max but rewarded him in rare style in the €160,000 centrepice.
“It’s an unbelievable training performance. It’s frustrating when good horses are on the sidelines and you can rush to get them back, but Philip has given him so much time and been so patient,” said O’Connell, winning a sixth career Grade One. “These are the races that count. This horse has been off for two years, and you’re always conscious of ‘the bounce’, but you can’t beat class.”
Fenton had endured frustration in the earlier Deloitte Novice Hurdle as the odds-on The Tullow Tank gave best to Vautour but Last Instalment’s quality was a perfect pick-me-up. O’Connell’s decision to take initiative after the second fence saw the horse’s jumping come into full effect and he quickened clear after the second last.
“He was genuinely electric at every fence. It’s been a long road back but it doesn’t get any better than this. I hope there’s improvement still to come but we’ll see how he is in the morning,” the trainer said.
“Brian was very good on him. I don’t know about jockeys at Cheltenham. Bryan is their (Gigginstown) jockey. And it will depend on what First Lieutenant does too. But for a horse with his history, the ground at Cheltenham would be a concern.”
A further step up in trip for the Neptune is likely for The Tullow Tank who looked readily outpaced by Vautour, the first leg of a Grade One double for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh which was completed by Ballycasey in the Moriarty. Both Mullins stars are 5/1 favourites for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the RSA Chase respectively.
Vautour’s all-the-way victory was as straight-forward as the three-runner Moriarty turned complicated. Ballycasey, too, made the running but the race was still up for grabs at the last when Don Cossack moved left, leaving little room on his inside for Carlingford Lough who collided with the wing of the fence unseating Tony McCoy.
It was still a fine comeback effort by Ballycasey, though, and Mullins reported of the horse substituting for Champagne Fever: “I was surprised how much he pulled out because he had a hold up. There should be improvement to come.”
Top amateur Robbie McNamara doubled up with Tammys Hill (Hunters Chase) and Vigil who was hugely impressive in the bumper. Claimer Ger Fox also scored a double, landing both handicap hurdles on Lughnasa and Never Enough Time.
“It’s what dreams are made of,” said the Co Meath jockey who has been working for Noel Meade for the last 10 months. “Riding for him means I’m coming in for rides from other boys so he’s been great to me.”