Eddie Harty has a single bullet left to fire at Leopardstown's Christmas festival and State Of Origin has a lot to live up to on Tuesday after Minella Foru maintained the Curragh trainer's perfect 100 per cent holiday record with a dramatic Paddy Power Chase bullseye.
Minella Foru was Harty’s third Christmas runner and a third winner – all in the colours of owner JP McManus – but the €190,000 handicap is the most valuable prize of the Christmas action and one of the most coveted.
"We've been planning this race for a while and it's nice when a plan comes together," said Harty after Barry Geraghty guided the 7/1 winner to a length-and-a-half defeat of Ucello Conti, with Folsom Blue third and the well-backed McManus-owned 4/1 favourite, Gilgamboa, in fourth.
For much of the race Gilgamboa looked like defying topweight under star teenage jockey Jack Kennedy, while Geraghty feared he might be fighting a losing battle. But after his stable companion, Copy That, had won earlier, and Coney Island was successful on St Stephens Day, Minella Foru was the latest Harty horse who refused to be denied.
“He made a mistake at the first and I nearly came off. I lost my stirrup briefly and I had to school him around for a long way,” said Geraghty, securing his most lucrative success for McManus since taking over from the retired Tony McCoy as the owner’s number one jockey during the summer.
“It was hard work for the horse in such a big field and on the ground, and he had to be brave,” added Geraghty, who had earlier also carried McManus’s colours to victory on the Aidan O’Brien-trained Ivanovich Gorbatov.
If the Paddy Power was Minella Foru’s plan, bookmakers reckon Cheltenham’s Triumph Hurdle will be Ivanovich Gorbatov’s big target this season. And he could be a significant horse in the burgeoning training career of Joseph O’Brien.
The winner is officially trained by the champion flat trainer Aidan O’Brien but he outlined how his son, the former champion jockey, Joseph, will take over that role once he has completed a Turf Club’s trainers course.
"He couldn't do it in November because he was at the Breeders Cup but he will do it as soon as he can," he said of his son, who has already saddled runners on the point-to-point field from his base at Piltown.
Long Dog is a 12/1 shot for the Neptune Hurdle at Cheltenham on the back of a gutsy Grade One success in the Future Champion Novices Hurdle.
Bouncing back immediately from Un De Sceaux’s dramatic fall in the previous race, Ruby Walsh dominated the race from the front and had three-quarters of a length in hand of the slightly unlucky Tombstone at the line.
“He’s very tough. I never felt like I was travelling that well and it felt like I was going as fast as I wanted to be going, but he stuck at it really well,” reported Walsh.
Henry De Bromhead has his own Cheltenham festival ambitions with Supasundae after the regally bred horse earned 25/1 quotes for the Supreme Novice Hurdle by running away from the favourite Silver Concorde in the closing stages.
“He was very green on his first run over hurdles and has taken a bit of time to learn about jumping but he’s getting better and I think he’ll get better again,” De Bromhead said. “He’s got gears and he looks a proper horse.”
The day two festival attendance of 17,431 was up over 400 on last year’s figure but Tote turnover jumped from €434,440 to €770,259. Bookmakers handled €1,117,441, up from €1,050,965.