Don Poli’s future appears to be paved with Gold
RSA win has trainer Willie Mullins and owner Michael O’Leary looking forward to Gold Cup
Windsor Park ridden by Davy Russell on their way to victory in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire.
Don Poli ridden by Bryan Cooper races clear to win the RSA Chase. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire.
Aux Ptits Soins ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies (yellow) wins the Coral Cup ahead of Zabana. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Davy Russell riding Rivage D’Or clears the last to win the Glenfarclas Handicap Steeple Chase. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images
It’s a game where every prediction comes with a ‘touch-wood’ nod to fate but Don Poli’s RSA triumph at Cheltenham was stamped with so much future Gold Cup potential that even Willie Mullins didn’t try to play it down.
Instead the festival’s dominant figure joined in the widespread marvelling at how blasé Don Poli could afford to be in approaching the task of tackling three miles, the best novice opposition around, not to mention reintroducing his jockey Bryan Cooper to the thrill of festival success.
On the same card a year previously Cooper’s horror fall from Clarcam in the Fred Winter resulted in seven months out with a broken leg.
This victorious return couldn’t be described as armchair for the simple reason Don Poli’s disinclination to do anything but the minimum-required rules out anything as superfluous as impressions. The limits of his ultimate capabilities though don’t look to have come close to being fully plumbed.
“He’s lazy so you couldn’t call him exciting: but he won with plenty in hand. He could have gone round again,” said Gigginstown Stud’s number one rider.
For once the ‘going round again’ line looked valid, especially in the context of Mullins’s previous belief Don Poli should have run in Tuesday’s four-miler. But as he looked at a replay of Don Poli pulling six lengths clear of Southfield Warrior, Mullins kept glancing at the horse’s ears flicking around like radar.
“He’s not even racing, only going half-speed,” marvelled a man not prone to exaggeration. “He has destroyed those and the only road he can go is the Gold Cup. He has all the ability in the world but these long-distance runners have to keep a bit for themselves and he does that. Florida Pearl won the RSA and this fellah looks as good although they are different types.”
One firm, no doubt noting how the RSA has thrown up two recent Gold Cup winners in Lord Windermere and Bobs Worth, immediately made Don Poli a 4-1 favourite for the 2016 ‘blue-riband’ which is owner Michael O’Leary’s holy grail.
“I’m not dreaming of anything yet,” stressed O’Leary who was simply keen to enjoy the day. “It’s wonderful for Bryan who had a very bad experience here last year.”
Nina Carberry’s experience on Quantitativeasing in the Cross-County Chase was comparatively painless but it might not have immediately felt like that for Ireland’s top female jockey after she was dramatically sent through the rail after the second last by the French horse, Toutancarmont.
The Irish based photographer Patrick McCann, standing by the fence, had to be taken to hospital in Bristol with a suspected broken leg sustained in the incident which Davy Russell was lucky to avoid on the eventual winner Rivage D’Or who completed doubles for both Gigginstown and their former number one rider.
It continued Russell’s remarkable current festival hot-streak. A winner on his final three rides at last year’s festival, the Cork jockey didn’t have a ride on the first day this time but an earlier Neptune Novices Hurdle success on Dermot Weld’s Windsor Park means an unblemished five winners from his last five Cheltenham rides.
If Rivage D’Or’s race was incident packed, Windsor Park’s performance was impressively straight-forward. Previous hold-up tactics were dispensed with and Weld’s runner always looked in control near the front, beating off Parlour Games and the Mullins favourite Nichols Canyon.
“I’ve been dropping him in and learning him his job. I took criticism but for me it’s all about the horse, it’s all about here, and if he was lacking experience it was here it would count,” said Russell who has had a winner a year at the festival since his first in 2006 and is now on a total of 15.
“He’s got a huge stride and can get a bit flustered if there are horses around him so I was happy to let him stride off in front. Stamina was never an issue. Size-wise you’d say he’d make a chaser but he’s not really bred for that,” he added.
Instead of fences, Weld’s immediate focus is on a return to the flat with even a tilt at the Ascot Gold Cup in June not ruled out.
“He’s a stayer with speed and could be entered for a Gold Cup (at Ascot.) He could also be a World Hurdle next year and might even go chasing. He’s pretty adaptable,” said Weld
One bookmaking firm suspect that adaptability could even extend to next year’s Champion Hurdle and slapped a 12-1 quote for that race on Windsor Park completing a double that Faugheen has managed in the last two festivals.
The Day Two festival crowd of 55,859 was a 10 per cent increase on the 2014 tally and a record for the second day since the festival went to four days in 2005.