Davy Russell passed the €2 million prizemoney mark for the season at Punchestown on Sunday and the jockey remains on course to enjoy his best ever campaign.
Hardline's success in the Listed Novice Hurdle was the first leg of a Gordon Elliott hat-trick and put Russell on 95 winners this term, cementing the view he has a third jockeys' title all but in the bag.
Russell recorded back-to-back title wins in 2011-12. It's a decade since he secured his best ever tally of winners in Ireland with 126 victories, an agonising five shy of Ruby Walsh's winning total. With 10 weeks to the season left bettering that haul could still be on the cards.
The current 30-winner gap to Paul Townend already looks enough for a third championship and with just over four weeks to Cheltenham Russell can look forward to maintaining his enviable festival record.
He has ridden at least one festival winner in each of the last dozen years and the RSA favourite Presenting Percy appears to be one of his best chances of making it a ‘Lucky 13’ next month.
Russell's increased link-up with Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown Stud on the back of Bryan Cooper's dismissal has been central to his run of success this term and it paid off again with Hardline.
A mistake at the second last by the other 5-2 joint-favourite Riders Onthe Storm had Hardline in front sooner than ideal. However December’s Royal Bond third had over two lengths in hand of his rival at the line.
“He’s a horse better coming at them,” explained trainer Gordon Elliott. “He’s a bit below a Grade One horse but he’s not bad and he’ll be a nice chaser.”
Elliott's own title chances in the trainers' championship got a boost with a Sunday hat-trick which included Folsom Blue's big-money success in the €100,000 Boylesports Grand National Trial.
Folsom Blue won the three and a half mile marathon four years ago for Gigginstown and the veteran’s first start over fences for Elliott yielded this boosted €59,000 first-prize.
Jack Kennedy’s mount now carries the colours of the Core Partnership which includes the ‘At The Races’ TV presenter, Gary O’Brien. He justified 5-1 favouritism by a length and a half from Iselofhopenddreams. Last year’s winner, Baie Des Iles, was third.
On a freezing day which only confirmed the meteorological view about Ireland’s spring not starting until March, Folsom Blue made light of the gruelling conditions and booked another ticket for the Irish National at Easter.
Folsom Blue was fifth in the Fairyhouse spectacular in 2014 after winning this Trial and was fourth in 2016. He was given a 20-1 quote to make it third time lucky now he’s in Elliott’s care.
“He’s a great honest horse. We sent him to England last week so it was a bit of a worry coming back a week later,” said Elliott who passed the €3.5 million prizemoney mark after Sunday’s action and is once again a shade of odds-on for a first trainers’ title.
“Gary [O’Brien] was responsible for buying him. He picked him out at the sales. He kind of jammed on at the last but other than that he jumped good and I’d say he’ll definitely go for the Irish National,” Elliott added.
The 4-7 favourite Getaway John completed Elliott's hat-trick with a smooth bumper success for Jamie Codd who'd earlier ridden a couple of point to point winners at Oldtown.
JP McManus and Enda Bolger combined for a double. The owner-trainer team finished 1-2-3 in the banks race as last year's winner Auvergnat got the better of a Josies Orders in a thrilling finish with Blue Templar back in third.
The former Grade One winner Gilgamboa rallied under Nina Carberry to beat off Burning Ambition in the Hunters Chase but won't be going to Cheltenham as he's ineligible for the Foxhunters there.
“He was second last year in the Fortria and it was a Grade Two so that rules him out of Cheltenham. It’s easy to be wise afterwards but had he won it wouldn’t have been too bad!” Bolger joked.
“We’ll probably go to the Tetratema now and then the Liverpool Foxhunters. That was a proper race and the young horse served it up to him,” he added.
Joseph O’Brien’s run of form continued when the Limerick bumper winner High Sparrow landed the maiden hurdle under the trainer’s cousin, JJ Slevin.
“He’s a tough little fella. He looked beaten at Limerick and came back and it was the same again today,” said O’Brien who had a Grade One double at the ‘Dublin Racing Festival’ last weekend.