A day that briefly looked like being a disaster for Willie Mullins ended in triumph as Kemboy thrust himself into the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture with a spectacular success in Friday’s Savills Chase at Leopardstown.
The champion trainer’s fears that sixth placed prizemoney of €3,500 might be Kemboy’s best hope proved dramatically wrong.
Instead the 8-1 shot powered to a spectacular seven and a half victory under Mullins’s nephew, David, and picked up the €103,250 first prize for his owners, the Supreme Racing Club.
Behind the syndicate-owned winner were some of the most powerful operations in the sport as Monalee held off the unlucky in running 9-4 favourite Road To Respect for second place.
Luck is a relative term though and another of Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team, Disko, took a fatal fall at the final fence of the big race.
Earlier such a sad outcome briefly looked like it might the fate of the former ‘Horse of the Year’ Faugheen after taking a crashing fall at the second last flight of the Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle.
As O’Leary’s star mare Apple’s Jade powered to her ninth career Grade One success, Faugheen lay on the ground, being tended to by his jockey Ruby Walsh.
This was the race that claimed the life of another Mullins star, Nichols Canyon, a year ago but perhaps the best sight of the week was Faugheen eventually getting to his feet and being led back by Walsh.
“I’m told he is a little bit stiff in his neck but he looks OK,” Mullins said after Kemboy’s victory.
“I thought I’d be halfway down the M50 by now. I don’t think a winner was ever so badly wanted, the way our horses were running today,” he added.
If Mullins’s form was dark before the big race he conceded it didn’t improve when he saw Kemboy being rushed up to the front with a circuit to go.
“I couldn’t think of enough swear words to say to him after the race!” he admitted.
“But David said they slowed down the race too much and his horse was keen.
He got an easy lead in front and he obviously had plenty left in tank. The way he flew up the hill after the last was very good,” Mullins added.
The reality is that such dramatic changes of plan usually require victory for jockeys to be vindicated and David Mullins’ initiative was rewarded.
“We were going very, very slow and even when I hit the front we were still going slow. Everything went to plan really, except we had to just let him go. Nobody took me on and there’s plenty to improve on. He could be a proper horse,” the 22-year-old winning rider said.
Bookmaker reaction was to cut Kemboy to as short as 8-1 to finally break his trainer’s duck in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
Michael O’Leary was out of luck in the big race but his Gigginstown Stud colours enjoyed a hat-trick highlighted by Apple’s Jade’s resounding success.
The star mare is odds-on with some firms to regain the OLBG Mares Hurdle crown at Cheltenham in March.
“We honestly don’t think about Cheltenham until we get closer because things can change so much between now and then. The plan will still be, I think, to bring her back and probably go for the Mares race,” the champion owner said.