A fourth place is Sir Des Champs’ worst placing in nine starts so far for Willie Mullins but that Lexus Chase run is the one that confirms him a genuine Cheltenham Gold Cup contender and maybe destined to become just the fourth Irish trained horse in over quarter of a century to win the most important steeplechase of all.
Considering there’s two and a half months to go, that might sound presumptuous, but the more you look at that epic race on Friday, the more the eye veers to the Gigginstown star.
Sir Des Champs never really travelled like a winner, certainly nowhere near as well as Flemenstar. And his jumping was sticky at times, nothing like as good as Gigginstown’s runner-up, First Lieutenant. He also didn’t finish quite as well as Tidal Bay.
But add up the resolution he showed, a proven record at coming up the Cheltenham hill, and, most crucially of all, the likelihood of better ground to encourage a smoother display of jumping, and Sir Des Champs emerges with plenty of credit.
Having said that, there was a moment there on the turn-in when Flemenstar really did look like the real-deal, one of those rare specimens, a la Kauto Star or Desert Orchid, that appears impervious to distance. That it didn’t unfold like that is hardly a tragedy.
And while the Ryanair might be a non-entity for some, it really does look an ideal fit for Peter Casey’s star in terms of distance, and staying away from Sprinter Sacre.
On another Lexus point, whether or not the big race proved as much of a public draw as might have been anticipated is debatable. A crowd of close on sixteen and a half thousand at Leopardstown is very good, but it was only slightly more than the previous Paddy Power meeting, and the pinning of the “Ladies Day” tag to Friday always ups the attendance. Was it Flemenstar or fashion that motivated the increase?
Overall the Leopardstown action could hardly have been much better in terms of quality out on the track. The best hurdlers, at every distance, and the best chasers, from two miles to three, were there. And in the circumstances, ground conditions were surprisingly good.
So, a success all-round, except for, as is becoming depressingly familiar, a near thirteen per cent drop in on-course bookmaker turnover. No industry can survive such figures in the long-term.
On a different topic, the entitlement of those without race-riding experience to criticise those with that precious commodity got a boost on the back of Sam Waley-Cohen’s King George winning ride on Long Run.
As per usual, flak directed at the sporting amateur jockey generated defensive responses along tiresomely predictable “how many winners have you ridden” lines.
But what’s noticeable has been the readiness of those who actually have ridden winners to dismiss critics of Waley-Cohen’s effort last week as reactionaries talking through their wallets. And they’re entitled to their opinion.
But be under no illusion there are plenty racing professionals who think differently, and are coming at it from a completely dispassionate stance.
Praising Waley-Cohen for being fit enough, and brave enough, to ride in a big race is all very well, but at this level, it resembles praising a doctor for having a tongue-depresser, or a bin-man a pair of gloves. It’s pretty basic stuff.
But there were a number of occasions during the race when the amateur looked very amateurish indeed, delivering only minimal assistance to a horse that clearly needs decisive handling. That was especially obvious at the last.
Pointing out the difference between Waley-Cohen’s effort against the top professionals doesn’t constitute a campaign to get the guy off Long Run in the Gold Cup. And by definition anyone betting on the horse takes the jockey’s limitations into account.
But to argue that Waley-Cohen stuck a metaphorical two-fingers up to his critics, and made criticism redundant, is bogus, and illustrative of how ex-jockeys are sometimes reluctant to vacate the insider tent and join us lesser mortals outside once their riding days are over.
And that’s no use to anyone.