Kemboy cut to as short as 5-1 for next year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup
Willie Mullins’s runner provides Ruby Walsh with perfect retirement cue
Ruby Walsh riding Kemboy clear to win The Coral Punchestown Gold Cup from Al Boum Photo and Paul Townend. Walsh then announced his immediate retirement from race riding at Punchestown. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Rarely if ever can a big-race winner have wound up so sidelined from the spotlight as Kemboy was after Ruby Walsh took his Coral Punchestown Gold Cup victory as the cue to retire on Wednesday.
Inevitably, the horse who’d just confirmed himself a prime contender for Cheltenham Gold Cup glory in 2020 got relegated to bit player status despite a heroic role in the fairytale ending to one of the greatest careers in Irish sporting history.
Kemboy also gave trainer Willie Mullins his 200th winner of the season in Ireland and even did his bit by behaving admirably amidst the post-race emotion.
Any bruised equine feelings might have been eased though by slashed 5-1 odds about his Cheltenham chances next March.
Even then, beating his stable companion Al Boum Photo by two lengths had his supporters wondering what might have been had Kemboy not unseated David Mullins just after the first fence in the Gold Cup less than two months ago.
Al Boum Photo going on to ‘Blue Riband’ glory on that occasion left a frustrating sense of ‘maybe’ among Kemboy’s connections that must have only deepened after an exciting win at Aintree.
However a third Grade One of the season cements Kemboy’s status as a true top-notch Gold Cup prospect. Helping Walsh with his date with destiny meant overcoming a tendency to run too free at times, something hardly helped by the English raider Definitly Red taking him on for the lead.
The 13-8 favourite threw some sketchy jumping in to boot, as did Al Boum Photo, although crucially Walsh described his jumping over the last two fences as “mustard”.
The man of the moment reported: “I knew Definitly Red would make it a real race and it was that. Paul [Townend] got up to me on the bend and I thought it was going to be a real race – but this little horse quickened.”
The outcome of that burst was a moment to define this or any other season with perhaps the finest jump jockey of all calling it quits just 13 days from his 40th birthday.
But if Walsh is retired, Willie Mullins isn’t and the champion trainer had more than one eye on the future when he said appreciatively: “He was up there all the way and Definitly Red put it up to him. And when Al Boum Photo tackled him Kemboy kept finding more.”
Kemboy was a 46th and final Grade One Punchestown festival winner for his jockey. Earlier though Rachael Blackmore broke her duck at the top level on Minella Indo.
Henry De Bromhead’s shock 50-1 Cheltenham winner proved his Albert Bartlett win was no fluke as he swept past the favourite Allaho in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle.
“Chasing is the plan next season. That’s what he was bought to do,” De Bromhead said. “Hopefully he’s that calibre [RSA] but obviously he has to take to fences.”
In the circumstances a 45-1 hat-trick for Mullins was inevitably sidelined too in terms of focus.
Mark Walsh did the steering on JP McManus’s Elimay in a conditions hurdle but there was more Grade One glory for the Mullins team as Colreevy (4-1) beat the favourite Abracadabras in the Racing Post Champion Bumper.
“Niall Flynn [owner] rang me and said she’d won the mares bumper last year so let’s go for the Champion Bumper. I thought ‘why not’.
“He was hoping she might get some black type and finish second or third. Jamie [Codd] worked the oracle and managed to squeeze a win out of her,” Mullins said after winner No. 201 of the season.
Abacadabras’ jockey Lisa O’Neill got a three day suspension for careless riding in an incident approaching the straight. She also got a day for her use of the whip.
The 11-10 favourite Gypsy Island ran out a hugely impressive winner of the Grade Three mares bumper with Derek O’Connor carrying JP McManus’s colours to a third win on the day.
Philip Hobbs had earlier produced Musical Slave to land the Opportunity Hurdle final under jockey, Jonjo O’Neill Jnr. Hobbs saddles Defi Du Seuil in Thursday’s big novice chase.
It was a productive day for another cross-channel raider as Nicky Henderson landed the handicap chase with OO Seven.