Don Poli breaks Willie Mullins’ Lexus Chase hoodoo
Gordon Elliott’s Prince of Scars wins Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown
The Lexus Steeplechase Trainer Willie Mullins after winning with Don Poli. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Don Poli finally broke Willie Mullins’ hoodoo in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown.
Despite his domination of Irish National Hunt racing, Mullins had never won the Christmas highlight, but also saddled On His Own and Sir Des Champs in the six-runner field.
On His Own cut out much of the running with the help of Foxrock, but Don Poli closed right up on that pair approaching the final fence.
But as On His Own weakened and Don Poli forged ahead, the popular veteran First Lieutenant began to stay on powerfully in the hands of Davy Russell.
Running in the race for the fourth time, it briefly looked as if he might catch the 4-6 favourite but the line came just in time for Bryan Cooper’s mount, who held on by half a length.
Paddy Power were not impressed and pushed Don Poli out to 6-1 (from 4s) for the Gold Cup.
A stewards’ inquiry was called into possible interference between Don Poli and Foxrock but the placings remained unaltered.
Prince Of Scars bounded into the Ladbrokes World Hurdle picture after he got the better of fellow Gigginstown runner Alpha Des Obeaux in the Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Gordon Elliott’s five-year-old is now available at around the 14-1 mark for the Cheltenham Festival showpiece in March as he clinically brought up a hat-trick under Davy Russell.
With Arctic Fire seemingly failing to stay three miles — he was last of the four horses that completed — Prince Of Scars (14-1) looked the winner a long way out and was too good for the Mouse Morris-trained Alpha Des Obeaux, who went down by four lengths.
Earlier Zabana made a seamless transition to fences for trainer Andrew Lynch to win the Ballymaloe Foods Beginners Chase.
A smart hurdler, the six-year-old was touched off in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham before finishing third at Punchestown in Grade One Company.
Expected to need his first outing since then, the 4-1 shot jumped with aplomb again under Davy Russell to win by a length and three-quarters from Blair Perrone.
“I was afraid of the ground but he was fit and well. He is going to come on from that,” said trainer Andrew Lynch.
“Davy gave him a great ride and took his time. He jumped great for first time out.”
Forever Gold showed more appetite for the battle than Russian Bill to come out on top in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle.
The 16-1 chance kept to the rail under Chris Timmons but eventual runner-up Russian Bill breezed up alongside.
However, Eddie Cawley’s Forever Gold stuck to his task resolutely to win by a length and a half, with Woodford Island third and Mall Dini fourth.
It was a second winner of the meeting for Timmons, who said: “It’s been a good Christmas. To be fair, Eddie was very keen on him as he had no weight on his back and all he does is stay.”
Chain Gang stayed on dourly to win the At The Races Maiden Hurdle. For a long way it seemed as though odds-on favourite Road To Respect was going to collect as Bryan Cooper sent his mount into a big lead.
Despite still apparently travelling well approaching the final flight, when he was tackled by Minella Aris, he found little.
Minella Aris then seemed sure to give Aidan and Joseph O’Brien their second winner of the meeting, but Alan Fleming’s Chain Gang managed to quicken up in the heavy ground for Adrian Heskin to win by a head at 6-1.