Eloquent response from Henry Higgins in Coral.ie Hurdle at Leopardstown
Trainer now weighing up a sentimental victory in County Hurdle over Coral bonus
Robert Power celebrates with with trainer Charles O’Brien and his daughter Natalie after winning the The Coral.ie Hurdle on Henry Higgins at Leopardstown. Photograph: Pat Healy/PA
There is a €100,000 bonus from the sponsors if Henry Higgins follows up his 16-1 success in the Coral Cup in two months’ time, but it’s not just stamina concerns over a longer trip that is turning trainer Charles O’Brien’s eye to the final day of the National Hunt festival instead.
It is 21 years since the County Hurdle title was altered to remember Vincent O’Brien, and not surprisingly the legendary trainer’s youngest son is pondering the possibility of a sentimental victory with the JP McManus-owned winner.
“It would be appropriate and it would certainly be a bit special to win, but there’s a long way to go,” warned O’Brien, primarily a flat trainer, and who came within an ace of winning the 1997 Irish Derby for his father with Dr Johnson.
Other high-class flat animals through his hands, including Burden Of Proof and Lord Admiral, have carried family colours, but it is McManus who has supplied the trainer with his most significant recent winners, including Iveagh Gardens on the flat and Stocktons Wing over flights.
A day which had started on a downer for the rider with the hot favourite Billy’s Hope nosed out of first in the mares maiden hurdle, improved for Our Duke’s impressive jumping debut, and Henry Higgins gave Power a second win in the race after Citizenship in 2012.
“We had a great run the whole way and I just wanted to hold on to him for as long as possible,” said the jockey, who had Kalkir back in second, with the unlucky in running Desoto County in third.
It was the latest in a string of big handicap victories for the McManus team, who had eight runners in the race, including the heavily backed After Rain who ran keenly and faded to 11th.
The champion owner’s colours also scored in the bumper with Aspen Colorado, who jumped to the top of the Cheltenham Bumper betting by beating Without Limites.
Our Duke eared 20-1 Neptune Hurdle quotes after edging out the odds-on Pylonthepressure, but trainer Jessica Harrington is in no hurry with the imposing six-year-old.
“He jumped slow but that will get better and once on the flat he kept galloping. You look at the size of him at six and he’s all over a chaser,” said Harrington.
The other €100,000 prize, the Leopardstown Chase, gave Co Wexford trainer Colm Murphy a welcome return to centre-stage as the Jonathan Moore ridden Empire Of Dirt finally secured the big pot he’d long promised to.
Moore lost his 7lb claim in style with Empire Of Dirt powering clear of another Gigginstown Stud runner, Killer Crow.
“On big days like this you will always see Colm Murphy winning if he has the horses,” said Moore, pinpointing how getting the horses has proved a problem for Murphy in recent years, in marked contrast to the days of Brave Inca and Big Zeb scoring at Cheltenham.
Marlbrook’s victory at Fairyhouse a week before had been Murphy’s first winner since August, but the trainer is maintaining a long-term view.
Murphy’s fellow trainer Paul Nolan is also aiming for better times too and Golan Lodge provided with a welcome winner under the 16-year-old star Jack Kennedy. “It’s like cheating, this lad with a 5lb claim!” Nolan said.