Bryan Cooper back with a bang as Tombstone wins at Gowran
Gordon Elliott’s seven-year-old claims scalp of Jezki in Red Mills Trial Hurdle
Bryan Cooper and Tombstone took the Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran Park. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Tombstone gave jockey Bryan Cooper a big winner on his return from injury as he claimed the scalp of former Champion Hurdle hero Jezki in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran Park.
Fourth behind Altior, Min and Buveur D’Air in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last season, Gordon Elliott’s seven-year-old was only third to Jezki on his comeback at Navan and had nearly three lengths to find.
The 9-4 chance took the lead off Rory O’Moore on the run to three out, with Jezki in his slipstream.
The 2-5 favourite closed up at the second-last but Tombstone pulled out more and while neither horse was particularly fluent at the final obstacle, Cooper’s mount kept going to prevail by four lengths for Grade Three honours.
Cooper, returning from a fractured pelvis sustained on New Year’s Eve, said: “We always thought he was a fair horse, I was looking forward to him going chasing this year, but next year is another year and he did it very well.
“I watched the race in Navan back about 10 times and it didn’t look like they went very quick, so today I was making sure of a strong-run race, I wasn’t afraid to take it up at the third-last.
“The one thing I wanted to do was knock the speed out of Jezki, I know he stays three miles but he is still a Champion Hurdle winner and I had that in the back of my mind.
“One thing I do like is when he missed the last he picked up and went again, so he’s definitely one to look forward to.
“He’s got an engine and hopefully we can keep him right.”
Elliott said: “I felt he’d improved a lot from Navan, and we were giving Jezki weight the last day. It was a good performance.
“He was going to go chasing, but he had a few setbacks. He’ll go over fences next year.
“He could step up to two and a half miles, and the race at Aintree might be a possibility. The plan was to let him roll off the back straight and if he was good enough, he was good enough.”
Jezki’s trainer Jessica Harrington was not too downhearted, saying: “I’m perfectly happy with him. I knew it was a risk coming here on the ground. We know if we look back at all his races he doesn’t like heavy ground.
“He beat Tombstone in Navan, but Tombstone was giving him weight and today at level weights it probably worked out exactly the same race.
“He doesn’t like that ground and quite honestly, as long as he comes back in one piece I’m quite happy. We are going to go to Cheltenham, but what we go for we’ll make that decision in the next few days.
“I suppose it’s all what arrives on the day at Cheltenham.”
Ballycasey ran out a determined winner of the Grade Two Red Mills Chase.
Willie Mullins’s grey was returning from a mid-season break but won the PWC Champion Chase over course and distance in October and was sent off the 4-7 favourite.
Clarcam took the lead off Montys Meadow at the fourth-last and appeared to be going better than Ballycasey, who went in pursuit, but Ruby Walsh had not played his hand and when he did approaching the last, Ballycasey found more reserves of stamina to pass Clarcam and score by four and a quarter lengths.
Mullins said: “I thought he was going nowhere going past the stands, and he seemed to get his second wind going up the back. His jumping kept him in the race, and to win on that ground was good.
“Once he found the other horses were not getting away from him, then he started to enjoy it again. I wouldn’t have thought we will travel with him. I’d say he’ll stay at home and find similar races to this.”
Mullins and Walsh had earlier struck with Bachasson, whose quality shone through as he got off the mark over fences in the www.gowranpark.ie Beginners Chase.
A Grade Three winner over hurdles, the grey hit the deck on his chasing bow before beating all bar Edwulf at Punchestown last month.
The 11-4 chance raced in second, until taking the lead temporarily off General Principle down the back, before Walsh set sail for home three out.
Efficient leaps at the obstacles in the straight helped seal a six-and-a-half-length defeat of General Principle.
Mall Dini was again a well-backed favourite but was beaten when making a mistake at the last and could only manage third.
Mullins said: “I was very pleased with how he handled that ground. I didn’t think he could jump as well out of that ground. I thought he was more of a good ground horse, and it was good to see him do that.
“He’s improving, and that was a real step up on what he’d done before. That could put him in the picture to go across (to Cheltenham) or aim for the Ryanair Chase in Fairyhouse.”