Carlingford Lough retains Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown

Valseur Lido falls dramatically at the last to deny Willie Mullins Grade One clean-sweep

Mark Walsh celebrates after winning the Irish Gold Cup on Carlingford Lough. Photograph: Sportsfile

Mark Walsh celebrates after winning the Irish Gold Cup on Carlingford Lough. Photograph: Sportsfile

 

Jump racing’s capacity to surprise has rarely been better illustrated than by Valseur Lido and Ruby Walsh’s dramatic final fence exit in the €150,000 Irish Gold Cup which prevented what looked set to be an unprecedented Grade 1 clean-sweep for Willie Mullins at Leopardstown.

Instead it was the 2015 winner Carlingford Lough, the horse who provided Tony McCoy with a memorable Leopardstown farewell last year when the race was known as the Hennessy, who ultimately secured back-to-back victories, this time under Mark Walsh.

That the 20-1 outsider was overlooked by Barry Geraghty in preference to JP McManus’s other runner, Gilgamboa, looked to be a perfectly reasonable decision for much of a furiously-run race in which Carlingford Lough was still at the rear of the field even on the turn in to the straight.

Mark Walsh even admitted he had been considering pulling Carlingford Lough up after the third last. But the impact of the pace cut out by On His Own and the favourite Road To Riches, allied to very testing conditions, eventually meant the complexion of the race altered dramatically in the closing stages.

Even so, Valseur Lido, the apparent second-string of Gigginstown’s five runners, looked to have all bases covered on the run to the last with Road To Riches struggling and Carlingford Lough still with plenty to do.

After the Mullins team had dominated the first three Grade 1 races on the sole card in Irish racing to host four top-flight prizes, there seemed almost an air of inevitability about the champion trainer landing the highlight for a remarkable tenth time.

However, Valseur Lido blundered badly at the same fence which just a few weeks previously Ruby Walsh performed a miraculous recovery on Killultagh Vic. This time the champion jockey failed to stay on board and got unseated.

Briefly this looked to leave Road To Riches with the chance of an unlikely victory but Carlingford Lough, who’d been last for the much of the race, stayed on grimly in the conditions to provide Mark Walsh with the biggest success of his career, and maybe the most surprising.

“I was 90 per cent certain I was going to pull him up after the third last but he got a bit closer by the second last so I thought I’d keep going,” laughed the jockey who was winning the third Grade 1 of his career. “I’m so glad I didn’t pull him up!”

McCoy was there to present the prize for what had seemed an unlikely success for much of the race although perhaps the most noteworthy bookmaker reaction afterwards, in Cheltenham terms, was that Valseur Lido had his Ryanair Chase price cut to 5-1.

Carlingford Lough failed to make an impact on last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup but his dramatic return to form saw him cut to 20-1 for the ‘blue-riband,’ a price that Road To Riches was extended to after never looking happy through the race.

Even McCoy admitted afterwards he too would picked Gilgamboa over his old ally too if still having the choice but it was a popular victory for both veteran trainer John Kiely and Mark Walsh.

“It was a brilliant feeling. To be going round there thinking you had no chance and considering pulling up at one stage and then to win by 12 lengths - it was just brilliant. He’s a good horse to do that,” Walsh said.

“I think, in fairness, they probably went too quick early and they all started to stop coming up to the last and I was giving my lad a chance the whole way round to fill himself up, to fill his lungs with air, and once he passed one horse he sprinted away,” he added.

Even apart from Valseur Lido, Ruby Walsh will want to forget a frustrating day which saw him draw a blank although his boss saddled a Grade 1 hat-trick.

Certainly if the previous weekend had briefly suggested a hiccup for the Willie Mullins bandwagon then this top-flight hat-trick, with Blazer’s handicap victory thrown, in, got it remorselessly back on track for the Cheltenham festival.

Outlander justified 13-8 favouritism by carrying Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud colours to victory in the Flogas Novice Chase and earn general 10-1 quotes for both the RSA and the JLT at Cheltenham in just over five weeks.

But the unprecedented strength in depth among the Closutton team was hammered home with a 1-2-3 led by the 14-1 stable outsider Footpad in the Gain Spring Juvenile Hurdle while another Mullins outsider of three, Bleu Et Rouge, scored for owner JP McManus in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle.

That McManus’s Ivanovich Gorbatov could finish only fourth to Footpad and remain as low as 4-1 favourite for the Triumph indicates the yawning gap between the conditions likely to apply at Cheltenham and the very testing ground conditions at Leopardstown.

Steady rain turned the ground officially heavy halfway through the card and plenty will be prepared to forgive another beaten odds-on favourite, Bellshill, who could finish only third to Bleu Et Rouge.

That Mullins saddled a Grade 1 hat-trick without Walsh on any of them also helped give a slightly ‘Phoney War’ feel in strictly Cheltenham terms but with the retained riders, Bryan Cooper and Barry Geraghty on Outlander and Bleu Et Rouge respectively, Footpad looked the only one to really get away from the champion jockey.

While Walsh finished third on Let’s Dance, it was Danny Mullins who disobeyed his uncle’s riding instructions to wonderful effect on Footpad.

“Danny took matters into his own hands. He felt they were going very quick and got him settled in behind,” Willie Mullins said.

The rider himself added: “It’s a great help to be given the chances on these good horses. He was very good today, I was a bit further back than I wanted to be but he was settled. One of the better judges in Willie’s said to me this morning he would run well and he did.”

The trainer intends running all three in the Triumph and remarked: “Let’s Dance was staying on again at the finish and would have been second in another few yards. She did all the hard work and will learn a lot from that.”

Invanovich Gorbatov disappointed and Barry Geraghty straight-forwardly put his performance down to being on the back-foot due to a strong pace but he had a very willing partner in Bleu Et Rouge who could be targeted at the Neptune next month after out-slogging Tombstone in the Deloitte.

“He was good. It’s very hard work out there today, the whole way around, and then you face the straight. It’s a stiff track at the best of times, but the very strong headwind makes it ultra tough today,” Geraghty reported.

“I thought that my lad jumped the second-last well and he ground it out from there. As soon as I jumped the last, I got stuck into him and there was a little bit more and he did it well,” he added.

No More Heroes’ status as the top staying novice chaser in Ireland wasn’t affected by a Flogas result which nevertheless threw up another Gigginstown festival hope in Outlander.

He got the better of a sustained duel with his stable companion Pont Alexandre who looked beaten when a final fence mistake sealed the issue.

“It was a good battle with Pont Alexandre and then Pont just seemed to fold, whereas Outlander just galloped and jumped and that’s what he does.

“I’m looking forward now to next month with him at Cheltenham. He’s coming on all the time. He stays and jumps which is what you want in a good horse. He could go either way (JLT or RSA), and whatever way the owners want to go I’ll be happy. I’d imagine they will want to keep them separate,” Mullins said in reference to the Gordon Elliott trained No More Heroes.

“Pont Alexandre was jumping a bit to the right so I’ll see if there is something amiss with him, but he probably wants a longer trip at this stage of his life,” he added.

Outlander’s rider, Bryan Cooper, said: “He showed a bit of pace there today so he can stay over that trip or he can go up, it doesn’t really matter. We’ll leave Willie to decide on his Cheltenham engagement once he comes out of today’s race well, that’s all that matters.”

There was a very sad outcome to the big hunters chase as winner You Must Know Me suffered leg injuries passing the line and had to be put down. The horse had given a fine exhibition of jumping throughout the race and had almost a couple of lengths in hand of It Came To Pass at the finish.

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