The folly of dismissing Carlingford Lough's Cheltenham Gold Cup claims on the basis of 33-1 odds for steeplechasing's 'blue riband' is obvious considering he was almost 1000-1 for Saturday's Irish Gold Cup with just one fence to jump and ultimately won in style.
That the John Kiely-trained star ultimately recorded back-to-back victories in one of Irish racing’s most coveted prizes by a dozen lengths was the outcome of an undeniably thrilling spectacle which put a dramatic seal on the sole card in Irish racing to contain four Grade One races.
Yet the reality that almost the entire jump-racing season – not just five weeks beforehand – increasingly revolves around the festival has rarely been more starkly illustrated than by how the top four Irish -trained contenders for Cheltenham Gold Cup glory next month were snug at home as Carlingford Lough picked up the €150,000 centrepiece.
That quartet of Vautour, Djakadam, and the two Don’s, Cossack and Poli, dominate the Cheltenham Gold Cup betting and yet all skipped the most prestigious and valuable race run so far this year. There was never even a whisper that a cross-channel raider might take up the challenge.
Gigginstown Stud’sRoad To Riches started favourite and, even though he never looked happy on the very testing ground, it appeared that only Valseur Lido’s final fence blunder, which unshipped Ruby Walsh, prevented the Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary from winning the race again.
If it was all very exciting, it also contributed to an overall sense that even this hugely significant programme gets invariably viewed through the Cheltenham prism and this time even that looked skewed by very testing ground conditions which are unlikely to be replicated at the festival.
That presumption appeared to be reflected in general bookmaker reaction to the hat-trick of Grade Ones for Willie Mullins with a general 'hold-fire' attitude by the layers to the victories of Footpad, Bleu Et Rouge and Outlander. It's an understandable tack too as the Triumph-bound Footpad apart, targets for many of the Mullins team will remain uncertain right up the start of the festival.
The festival’s allure appears to overshadow all and certainly looks to make prizemoney a side-issue in weighing up who warms up for what and where.
Carlingford Lough however looks set to have another crack at the Cheltenham Gold Cup after his dramatic bounce back to form and Leopardstown’s manager Pat Keogh believes the JP McManus-owned star, along with runner up Road To Riches, and Valseur Lido too, all hold solid claims to being genuine ‘blue-riband’ contenders.
“Road To Riches was only narrowly beaten at Cheltenham last year and he probably wasn’t suited by the ground on Saturday. And Valseur Lido was running a super race until he made the mistake. I think these horses are right up there,” he said.
Carlingford Lough's jockey Mark Walsh has yet to ride a winner at Cheltenham but he's unlikely to ever believe anything is a lost cause again after Saturday's dramatic finale.
Walsh said he was close to pulling up the horse after the third last. Only a suspicion the entire field in front of him had gone too fast a pace on the heavy going stayed his hand.
“Once I jumped the second-last the others stopped in front of me and he kept galloping. He stuck his head down and sprinted, winged the last and just galloped home to the line,” said Walsh who landed his third career Grade One.
“I was the one that was quickening. Ruby hadn’t gone for Valseur Lido, but I’m pretty confident I would have won anyway,” he added.
Significantly though bookmaker reaction was to make Valseur Lido a best-priced 20-1 shot for Gold Cup glory next month although he is also as low as 5-1 for the Ryanair Chase his owner sponsors. Road To Riches is also among the market leaders for the Ryanair but uncertainty over running plans for the big week is obvious when Gold Cup favourite Vautour is an even shorter favourite for the Ryanair.