Neptune Collonges wins Gold Cup

 

LEOPARDSTOWN:Neptune Collonges dominated the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Leopardstown to provide Ruby Walsh with his first victory in the prestigious Irish race. He will now join Denman and Kauto Star in trainer Paul Nicholls’ attempt at repeating his one-two-three in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.

Despite his bright grey colour, Neptune Collonges does not enjoy as high a public profile as his stablemates in Britain but is familiar to Irish racegoers and he was collecting a third Grade One win in the country following two Punchestown Gold Cups.

With Cheltenham title holder Denman not impressing on his belated return at Kempton recently, Neptune Collonges was trimmed to the same price (5-1 with the sponsors) to go two places better than his third in 2008. Nicholls’ 2007 champion Kauto Star — the probable mount of Walsh — is the 7-4 favourite.

While talk of Cheltenham served to whet the appetite, this was a prize not to be sniffed at even if it was not the strongest of renewals on paper.

Neptune Collonges’ only previous start this season had been at the Dublin course over Christmas when he fell at the penultimate fence of the Lexus Chase.

There were to be no such mistakes this time around and he tracked his fellow West Country raider and last year’s hero The Listener.

The two greys, both fitted with nosebands and carrying yellow colours, looked pretty similar from afar but there was only one likely to win as Neptune Collonges seized the lead at the third-last.

Having negotiated the next obstacle without any trouble, the only problem came from the stubborn Welsh National winner Notre Pere.

His jockey had been pushing him along some way from home but he never quite looked like eating into the 8-13 favourite’s advantage and was held by five

lengths.

“We’ve done a lot of work with him since last time as he got very lazy,” said Nicholls. “It’s come together well and he will improve for the run so we’re very happy with him. I’m really looking forward to the Gold Cup now.

“It took the horse a week to regain his confidence after his fall here the last day.

“He took a good old blow today, he has been giving the young horses a lead over the baby hurdles to get his confidence back.

“That’s the best he’s jumped for a while and we put a sheepskin noseband on him to help him concentrate.

“If we got this ground in Cheltenham it would be ideal. We will probably go to Punchestown after Cheltenham.”

While not in Walsh’s league, Nicholls was an accomplished horseman himself and he recalled: “I won this race as a jockey 21 years ago aboard a horse called Playschool.”

Jockey Andrew Lynch said of the Jim Dreaper-trained runner-up: “He ran super and jumped super. The other horse was just a bit pacier.

“The ground was a bit dead but they weren’t going into it and I was always going a stride too quick.

“He’s a real natural over fences and he’s improved a fair bit from his last run. It is up to the trainer and owner but I see no reason why not (run in the Gold Cup).”

The Listener dropped away tamely and finished last of the six runners while Chelsea Harbour ran a scorcher of a trial for the Grand National, coming from a long way off the pace to be third.