No crowds were at Punchestown to watch Clan Des Obeaux win Wednesday’s Ladbrokes Gold Cup but it’s a victory that reverberated loudly across the Irish Sea.
A €25,000 supplementary gamble by Britain's champion trainer Paul Nicholls paid off in style as the horse part-owned by former Manchester Utd manager Alex Ferguson beat off Al Boum Photo under jockey Sam Twiston-Davies.
However, there was a far wider dividend of boosted cross-channel morale considering how British racing has been reeling on the back of a record 23 Irish-trained winners at Cheltenham, and a subsequent Grand National rout at Aintree.
At a time of unprecedented dominance by Irish racing the significance of top English connections pluckily venturing into their backyard and coming out on top was lost on no one.
“To win a Punchestown Gold Cup, it is the stuff dreams are made of: to come over here and do it like that, be aggressive like that,” beamed Twiston-Davies whose previous festival success had come in 2009 as a teenager.
There wasn’t a hint of fluke about it either. The 100-30 winner was there to be shot at from the start, led with a circuit to go, made an error down the back stretch that saw the home stars close in on him, yet still ground it out to win by a length and a half from the 6-4 favourite.
It was a third win in the race for Nicholls who won it back-to-back with Neptune Collonges in 2007-08 and a first Punchestown festival success for Nicholls since Master Minded landed the 2009 Champion Chase.
“A great performance. I always thought Punchestown would suit him,” reported the trainer from his Dorset base. “Cheek-pieces just woke him up and he’s done a good job.”
Twiston-Davies stepped in for the injured Harry Cobden on the former dual-King George winner and added: "As we're jumping four out, I 'm thinking 'Oh, I've been a little bit bold' but thank God he's tough and the team had him in great nick."
Clan Des Obeaux’s aversion to Cheltenham means he isn’t a Gold Cup threat to Minella Indo & Co next season but he was cut to 5-1 for a third King George at Christmas.
There was minimal local embarrassment after the rare reverse but later there were red faces after the Guinness Handicap Chase won by the Dermot Desmond-trained outsider, Foxy Jack, was marred by a chaotic start.
Two failures to get the 24-strong field off resulted in a standing start at which confusion reigned, including when the 11-1 shot Ten Ten whipped around and was left.
Another JP McManus-owned runner, Blazer, reared and lost ground before finishing 14th of the 15 finishers. Royal Rendezvous (11th) and Snugsborough Hall (pulled up) were also hampered and subsequently never got into contention.
At a subsequent enquiry, and after hearing evidence from starter Paddy Graffin and four of the riders, the stewards were satisfied that ultimately a fair start had been effected.
However, they referred the matter to the registrar of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee for further investigation.
Graffin told the stewards he had to call a first false start as it was before the ‘off’ time. He said only some of the riders had obeyed his instructions at the second false start and some had pre-empted the start.
As for the actual start he said “all riders were facing the right direction when under starter’s orders and a fair start was effected.”
He added that "due to tight space from a standing start some runners were inconvenienced and Mark Walsh [rider of Ten Ten] chose not to take part."
It’s not the first time this season that a start has provoked controversy.
Racing’s regulator unreservedly apologised in February for shambolic scenes at Naas, which it admitted should have resulted in a false start being called.
Willie Mullins was out of luck in the big race but it proved a rare reverse for the champion trainer who secured a hat-trick, including a Grade One double.
Kilcruit had to settle for second to his stable companion Sir Gerhard at Cheltenham but got his revenge in the ITM Champion Bumper.
Patrick Mullins’s decision to pick the 5-6 favourite Sir Gerhard backfired as veteran star Derek O’Connor stepped in for a first success in the race on the 11-8 winner. Sir Gerhard had to settle for third as outsider O’Toole came through later for the runner-up spot.
Earlier Paul Townend extended his jockey's championship lead over Rachael Blackmore to six (97-91) when Galopin Des Champs made light of the jump from handicap success at Cheltenham to Grade One glory in the Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle.
The Martin Pipe winner travelled superbly throughout to win by a dozen lengths at 13-8 and appears to have the racing world at his feet.
Patrick Mullins later widened the gap to Jamie Codd in the amateur jockeys' title race to two (47-45) as Grangee landed the mares' bumper at odds-on.