JP McManus might have been forgiven for announcing on the back of Sunday’s hugely lucrative Fairyhouse hat-trick that he hasn’t gone away, you know.
In a big-race season dominated to date by McManus’s great rival, Michael O’Leary, the legendary owner bounced back with a vengeance through a 305-1 hat-trick, headlined by Coney Island’s Grade 1 success in the Bar One Drinmore Novice Chase. It was a first top-flight victory for McManus since Jer’s Girl at Punchestown last April and to emphasise the point his first colours were carried by Barry Geraghty on the runner up Anibale Fly.
Geraghty had earlier landed the Grade 3 Juvenile Hurdle on Landofhopeandglory and also looked to have the €100,000 handicap hurdle in his pocket only for the favourite Campeador to crash out at the last. Even then the pervasive strength of McManus's team came to the rescue as another of his seven runners in the race, Waxies Dargle, emerged from the pack to win at 16-1 under Sean Flanagan.
If Landofhopeandglory - part of a sizable batch of classic-bred three year olds moved from Ballydoyle to Joseph O’Brien - cemented his place at the top of the Triumph Hurdle it was Coney Island who fired dreams of ultimately someday perhaps landing the ultimate prize.
"You'd like to think he's a Gold Cup horse but you hate to say these things; you need so much to go right," said his trainer Eddie Harty. It's been said about horses who've exhibited a lot less talent and potential than Coney Island did in the Drinmore. The 8-1 winner travelled best of all and quickened up in style as the favourite Diamond King made a last fence mistake and faded to fifth.
“Christmas is only three weeks away but he might run over three miles at Leopardstown, or we might wait for the novice there in February. He looks like a proper horse and I hope he is,” Harty added.
That Ballydoyle bath of prospective hurdlers has resulted in Joseph O’Brien being rated only 11-8 to repeat Ivanovich Gorbatov’s Triumph success of last season. The rest will be very smart however to eclipse Landofhopeandglory in the pecking order.
“Each race he’s getting better. It’s important they take to hurdling and he has,” O’Brien said. “That was his biggest test and we’ll look to Christmas now.”
Sunday’s Fairyhouse crowd was reportedly over 6,000, compared to the 2015 ‘Winter Festival’ figure of 4,000.