Istabraq proves too strong for Cockney Lad


Istabraq moved to the top of the Smurfit Champion Hurdle market with a smooth display in winning the Avonmore Waterford Hattons Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse yesterday. Considering the Sun Alliance hero started a 1 to 3 favourite to win, Istabraq's two length defeat of Cockney Lad was as much as he was entitled to do but the impression he left made Champion Hurdle prices of as low as 5 to 1 seem not unreasonable.

With only four opponents, Istabraq was forced into making the running and he and Charlie Swan sauntered along in splendid isolation until Cockney Lad closed significantly running to the second last flight. Swan, however, took a peep over his shoulder, squeezed up his partner and Cockney Lad's chance disappeared almost immediately.

Not surprisingly, Swan was delighted with the response Istabraq had given him and he said: "I couldn't have been happier with him. I know Cockney Lad and how well he travels so I looked around for him in the straight but Istabraq will jump even better when he gets a faster pace."

Aidan O'Brien was of a similar view and will next run his brilliant young hurdler in the £20,000 AIB Festival Hurdle on the last day of the Leopardstown Christmas meeting before sending him back to the same track for the Irish Champion Hurdle in January. Yesterday's race may have been over two and a half miles but O'Brien has few worries about Istabraq running against the best over the minimum trip.

"He has loads of pace and has got stronger this season. He's actually heavier today than when he won at Tipperary but he is winning his races so easily. He gets a lead in his home work and that would suit him in his races too," O'Brien considered.

That consideration also influenced Ladbrokes and William Hills' decision to make Istabraq their new 5 to 1 favourite with Paddy Power going 11 to 2 and Corals best on 6 to 1 joint favouritism with Shadow Leader.

Ladbrokes representative Mike Dillon commented: "Today's race didn't suit him. I've long considered Istabraq needs a strongly run two miles on a stiff track and he'll get that at Cheltenham. Cockney Lad is no slouch and I've no hesitation making Istabraq favourite."

Typically the horse's owner J.P. McManus wasn't getting carried away and said: "It's a long time between now and Cheltenham but he conceded with a smile: "I'm very pleased with the horse."

O'Brien and Swan also had reason to be pleased when their Private Peace was a rather fortuitous winner of the Chiquita Drinmore Novice Chase. Private Peace looked to have lost the front running battle with Irish Breeze before the straight and facing up to the second last, the race looked to concern Irish Breeze and the smooth travelling favourite Hill Society.

However, Irish Breeze took a crashing fall and when Hill Society became entangled in his flailing limbs, Paul Carberry had no chance of staying with the favourite. That left a very tired Private Peace, who almost went himself at the second last, back in front but he had to battle doggedly again to hold Guest Performance.

"He was working hard for a long way and is glad to be back in the stable yard," said O'Brien before adding: "He'll be a lovely horse when he goes over three miles."

Long term, fences and a trip are also likely to suit Feathered Leader but he also looks a seriously talented novice hurdler judged on his defeat of Promalee and Cloone Bridge in the Avonmore Royal Bond Novice Hurdle.

Conor O'Dwyer brought Arthur Moore's five-year-old with an impressive surge in the straight and left Moore anticipating the future.

"He stays and has a high cruising speed which is what you want in a top class horse. I'm looking forward to going over fences with him. He's a big horse and Cheltenham is a different ball game but he'll go this season if I think he's entitled to," Moore said.

Ted Walsh is eyeing the £105,000 Paddy Power Chase after Papillon won the Cottage Handicap Chase under Walsh's son Ruby while Noel Meade saddled an impressive double via Walk On Mix and Cliffs Of Dooneen in the bumper.