New tactics pay dividends for Dorans Pride
The questions that the Ericsson Chase was supposed to answer are still stubbornly hanging around. And as the rejuvenated Dorans Pride galloped past the post, the biggest question mark of all galloped loose behind him.
Florida Pearl, Irish racing's great white-faced hope, had been caught by a sucker punch from the third-last fence. Three fences earlier, Dorans Pride had made a howling mistake and survived. The unbeaten youngster's survival instincts are not yet as well honed.
What we do know, however, is that Florida Pearl and Dorans Pride made it to three fences out, still on the bridle and having burned off such class acts as Suny Bay and Boss Doyle.
That alone was enough for most bookmakers to leave Florida Pearl's Gold Cup price unchanged and Paddy Powers saw enough to cut him to 7 to 2 clear favourite over the King George V1 Chase winner, Teeton Mill.
That last ditch, though, prevented what could well have been an epic finish. Richard Dunwoody saw a stride, asked Florida Pearl for another big leap and the horse decided to put in an extra stride. Florida Pearl ended up on his belly and Dunwoody saw the horse he had rejected for this race gallop away to an easy win.
Dorans Pride justified trainer Michael Hourigan's faith and owner Tom Doran's determination to take on the other big guns in this race.
"If I can get him to Cheltenham sound, he will win the Gold Cup," said Hourigan. "The mistake he made in the Gold Cup last March cost him 15 lengths and he ended up being beaten by less than two." Doran told Paul Carberry to attack on his horse and saw the policy pay off gloriously. "I told him this horse is a stayer and to go out and make them stay. There will be new front-running tactics at Cheltenham," he exulted. Carberry's first ride on Dorans Pride is unlikely to be his last. He showed Evostick-like qualities to remain on the horse's back after the mistake, and then proceeded to give Dorans Pride a wonderfully decisive ride.
"He hit the fence a fair thump. I let him pop it instead of asking for a long one, but he was quickly back on the bridle," Carberry said, before answering the inevitable question about keeping the ride with a grinning "yeah".
In contrast, there was a quiet post-mortem among Florida Pearl's connections. "It's disappointing, but there could have been a lot worse scenarios out there. The horse appears fine. He changed his mind at the fence, but Richard wouldn't have asked if he hadn't been going so well," said Willie Mullins.
With typical diplomacy, Dunwoody skirted the questions about whether he would have won but significantly commented: "Going into the fence I was more than happy I had made the right choice. He was travelling very well and felt spot-on."
Florida Pearl will return to Leopardstown for the Hennessy in February, but if he turns up there, Dorans Pride will not take him on again. The definitive answer will come at Cheltenham. "If the Hennessy cuts up, we might give our horse a run but otherwise he won't run again before Cheltenham," said Hourigan.
The disappointment of the race was the English horse, Suny Bay, who was under pressure after the ninth fence and eventually was an exhausted faller at the second last. "He was beaten at half way and was unconcious when he fell," said Graham Bradley. Boss Doyle came under pressure after the 10th but kept going to finish a distance second. "He couldn't handle the ground and looks more an Irish National horse," said Mouse Morris.
Dreams of the Gold Cup in 2000 are being nurtured for Nick Dundee, who won the Neville & Sons Novice Chase, also by a distance. Here too the fences played a part, as both Foxchapel King and Moscow Express fell at the fourth last. Nick Dundee will return here for a prep race before being aimed at the SunAlliance Chase.
"I think he has the pace for the Arkle, but we wanted to see today about the three-mile trip," said Edward O'Grady.
Commanche Court also proved his ability to last three miles with an ultra-impressive success in the Woodies Christmas Hurdle and will now travel to Cheltenham for the Cleeve Hurdle. To Your Honour will only hit the Cotswolds in March, but after a smooth win in the Stillorgan Hurdle, Francis Flood's novice hurdler is as low as 10 to 1 for the SunAlliance.