Gordon Elliott’s A Toi Phil takes Leopardstown Chase

Yorkhill hardens as JLT favourite despite making hard work of Grade Three novice chase

A Toi Phil  with Jack Kennedy aboard after winning the coral.ie Leopardstown Handicap Chase  on Sunday.  Photograph: Patrick McCann

A Toi Phil with Jack Kennedy aboard after winning the coral.ie Leopardstown Handicap Chase on Sunday. Photograph: Patrick McCann

 

When it was pointed out to Gordon Elliott after A Toi Phil’s narrow success in the Leopardstown Chase on Sunday that he has now won all seven of the lucrative six-figure handicap chases run in Ireland this season, his response was instant: “And there’s a few left!”

If that’s encouraging for Elliott’s chances of dethroning Willie Mullins as champion trainer, a more immediate outcome was A Toi Phil’s victory setting up a major handicap double for Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team on Sunday, which was completed by Ice Cold Soul in the big hurdle.

Gigginstown’s influence has been paramount in Elliott’s handicap hot-streak that began with Lord Scoundrel’s Galway Plate during the summer and could continue to Gowran’s Thyestes on Thursday, where the season’s leading trainer has 11 entries.

They include Gigginstown’s Grade One winning hurdler, Prince Of Scars, who is still a novice over fences, although that ultimately proved no barrier to A Toi Phil, beating his seniors in dramatic fashion under jockey Jack Kennedy.

The 7-2 favourite did betray signs of inexperience through the race, but Kennedy powered him up in the dying strides to overhaul Stellar Notion by a neck.

Of Elliott’s big handicap winners, only Noble Endeavor (sic) in the Paddy Power hasn’t carried O’Leary’s colours, and the trainer was quick to acknowledge the quality of horse he has to work with.

“These horses are all bought to be graded horses, and if they just fall below the pecking order they can end up getting into these races off nice marks,” said Elliott, who extended his lead over Mullins in the trainers’ championship to over €300,000. “When I saw the entries for this race I thought he (A Toi Phil) was well weighted.”

Fitted script

Outlander

It might sound contrary, but the consensus following Yorkhill’s success was that the €45,000 Grade Three novice chase was almost too easy a race for him.

Beforehand Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh presumed both Gangster and Bellow Mome would at least give Yorkhill a lead, yet even before halfway the 1-5 favourite had pulled himself to the front.

Repeating the same tendency to jump to his left that he showed on chasing debut at Fairyhouse, Yorkhill “tanked” his way through the rest of the race and ultimately had to be niggled along up the run-in by Walsh to hold Jett by just over a length.

On the face of it bookmakers who took the opportunity to cut him even further as favourite for Cheltenham’s JLT might be accused of chancing their arm.

However, just as he did over hurdles last season, Yorkhill again exhibited a raw power that points to massive potential once he gets a top race run at a strong pace going left-handed.

If that sounds a perfect Cheltenham scenario, then Mullins has to decide which of the festival’s novice events most fits the bill.

”We thought there would be enough pace in the race, but our fellah’s cruising speed was obviously higher than the others, which means he can come back in trip. But his pedigree and everything else suggests he can go out. Whether he’s too strong to go longer I don’t know,” he pondered.

Exuberance

“He’s just very strong and a challenge to ride, but I’m not going to interfere with him much. With more experience I would hope he’ll grow out of it,” he added, before confirming Faugheen is on course to defend his BHP Irish Champion Hurdle crown next Sunday.

Should Yorkhill go for the Flogas, he could clash with Our Duke, whose brother Oscar Sam defied top weight with some aplomb in the handicap hurdle.

Earlier Ruby Walsh had to settle for third on the odds-on Capital Force in a maiden hurdle, and was runner-up on Bargy Lady in the mares maiden behind Toe The Line.

Ground conditions that owed more to the flat than midwinter appeared to help Toe The Line, a dual-Listed winner on the level, to come through and win cosily under Denis O’Regan.

The going was also no trouble to Bakmaj ,who is on course for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham after an impressive defeat of Gigginstown’s Imperial Way in the finale.

“We’re looking forward to him for next season at 2½ or three miles. That’s the sort of horse we think he is,” said his trainer Alan Fleming.  

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