A dramatic renewal of the Grade 1 Dunboyne Castle Hotel & Spa Champion Stayers’ Hurdle saw the market leader Mighty Man pulled up and second favourite Brave Inca finish only sixth.
But the spoils went to 16/1 chance Refinement, the fourth British-trained winner of the week, who came with a well-timed run to score under Tony McCoy for trainer Jonjo O’Neill. Michael Tabor’s mare had also won the Paddy Power Champion INH Flat Race at the 2005 Punchestown Festival.
“She’s struggled a bit this season but ran much better at Liverpool last time,” said McCoy. “She’s quite a small mare and Jonjo has done a fantastic job keeping the likes of her and Butler’s Cabin going through the year.
“She’s a little bit idle and has her own ideas - she’s a typical woman! I gave her a couple of smacks after the bend and she actually did it nicely. Mr Tabor’s only got the one horse with us so hopefully he’ll send a few more now!”
Frank Berry, representing O’Neill, added: “She won the Grade 1 bumper here as well and the plan going into today had been to retire her to stud but they might have a rethink now. It was a great ride from Tony.”
United, who finished fourth in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, took third on this occasion. Trainer Lucy Wadham hopes Cheltenham goes ahead with its plan to introduce a mares’ race at next year’s Festival.
Wadham said: “Considering she’s had a long enough season I’m delighted with that run. We’ve beaten Refinement every time we’ve met this season, but maybe the trip of three miles on good ground enabled her to turn the tables.
It could be that our mare is best suited to two and a half miles or two miles five furlongs.
“She will stay in training next year and we’ll aim for the new mares’ race at Cheltenham. I only hope it’s not a handicap, or she’ll have top weight and everything else will be out of the handicap if Refinement is off to stud.”
Brave Inca’s trainer Colm Murphy said: “It’s been a long year and I wouldn’t read too much into that. The ground might have been a little fast but he’s had a lot of hard races and that might have been one too many.”
PROMISE COULD BE GOLD CUP HORSE
Trainer Ferdy Murphy revealed big hopes for Another Promise after the seven-year-old became the third British-trained winner of the 2007 Irish National Hunt Festival when taking the Grade 1 Swordlestown Cup Novice Chase by three and a half lengths from Royal Shakespeare, another raider from across the Irish Sea.
“I think he’s a Gold Cup horse and there’s potentially massive improvement in him,” said Murphy. “It was just to get experience into him that we were running over this shorter trip, he stands at 17.2 hands and is seven and has had quite an easy season. The plan today was to hunt him over the first few and then make up ground.
“He’ll go out to grass now and I’m not sure where he’ll start off next year. But he’s one for the bigger tracks whereas Aces Four (who fell in Tuesday’s Ellier Developments Hanover Quay Novice Chase) might be suited by the likes of Sandown and Ayr. I spoke to my assistant this morning and he said Aces Four was out in the field at home and had a good roll, which was some good news to start the day with.”
Royal Shakespeare was a very good hurdler, and he has become a high-class novice chaser this season. After finishing third to Twist Magic in the John Smith’s Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree he moved up one place to finish second here.
His trainer Steve Gollings said: “He’s been beaten by a better horse, and to be honest I’m a little disappointed, because I thought this would be his day. The ground and track were right for him.
“Having said that I’m delighted that he’s proving so good over fences. He was beaten a short-head here by Brave Inca [in 2004] over hurdles, and now he’s finished second in a Grade 1 chase so I’ve got to be pleased. He’s right up there with the best. People have slated him on occasions and I’ve made excuses for him when ground conditions have been against him, but I wouldn’t mind another one like him in the yard. That’s it for this season.”
There had also been a British success in the previous race when the Nicky Henderson-trained Punjabi held off Financial Dream to land the Grade 1 Ballymore Properties Champion 4YO Hurdle.
“He really deserved that. Katchit is just too good for him but he has upheld the form and shown that they are good horses,” said Henderson. "He's entitled to be the second-best four-year-old on this running, and you have to be brave to run at Cheltenham, Aintree and then here.
"I was going to put him back on the Flat but I will treat him like a hurdler and give him a break. I'm not making any decisions about next season though - I'll wait and see what happens.”
Today’s attendance on the third day of the Irish National Hunt Festival was 19,858, up from 19,189 on the same day in 2006.
Tuesday’s attendance was 17,974 while the crowd on Wednesday was 20,153 .
14-YEAR-OLD SPOT MAKES HISTORY
The 14-year-old Spot Thedifference returned to a hero's welcome at Punchestown this afternoon after landing the Avon Ri Corporate & Leisure Resort Chase for the La Touche Cup under 12st 7lb and give trainer Enda Bolger an historic tenth successive victory in the famous race.
After stablemate Moyglass set a strong gallop under Conor O'Dwyer, jockey John Thomas McNamara waited patiently on Spot Thedifference before eventually hitting the front after Ruby's Double second time round. Bolger's third runner, Freneys Well, stayed on to finish second, four and a half lengths behind the winner.
"He's a just a brilliant horse," said Bolger. "You can only just be hopeful beforehand as it's a novelty race where anything can happen. Stamina is his thing and he had a good man on his back today.
"It was a searching gallop but four miles and two takes a lot of getting at Punchestown and the banks slow them down here. His forte is his finish but I didn't want him to get too detached - I was a little worried for a minute that he was further back than we wanted - Conor did his job but I didn't expect him to go that fast! It was great that Nina was second but Today was all about Spot.
"I'm lucky that I have J P (McManus) backing me and I can do what I like. Having John Thomas and Nina riding for me also makes things easy."
When asked about retiring the winner, Bolger added: "We'll have a look over the summer. He's 14 but he enjoys life, loves being in training and loves human beings - except the vet."
Owner J P McManus added: "I've had him since he was five and I'm just lucky to have him - he's in grand hands. I'll leave any decision on his retirement to Enda.
"For a 14-year-old to win and give the younger brigade a stone was some achievement. John Thomas knows him so well and persevered. The horse enjoyed it out there and loved the ovation he got. It's been a very special day and I'm just pleased to have been part of it.
"I suppose the purists would find it hard to believe but I'm as happy to win the La Touche as any race at the Festival."
John Thomas McNamara, who has now won four La Touche Cups, said: "They went very fast early on and this ground is a bit quick for him, but as we all know, Spot comes home. He seems to know when he's getting near the winning pole.
"He's getting better with age, like a good wine. I've been lucky to ride some very good horses, but I've got a soft spot for Spot. He's unreal, and he deserved a fantastic reception, but he's a very popular horse."
There was another popular success in the opening KFM Hunters Chase for the Bishopscourt Cup when Lord Killucan justified 11/10 favouritism to score from the front for jockey Robbie McNamara and owners Valerie and John Osborne, whose Tipper House Stud is based close to the racecourse.
"He jumps well and stays so we thought there was no point in waiting around," said winning trainer Michael Halford. "John and Valerie's farm adjoins the track and John made the plan before Christmas to go for a point-to-point then come here. Luckily it worked out, we just prayed for a bit of decent ground.
"He's the only point-to-pointer I have and I think I'll have to ask Enda Bolger what to do from here on - I'm lost! Robbie thinks a nice bit of the horse and he could come back here for the banks races."
The Avon Ri Corporate & Leisure Resort Cross Country Chase For The La Touche Cup (Bank/Chase Course), 4m 2f, €40,000 (Euros), Thursday, April 26, 2007 - Enda Bolger’s 10 winners
Year Horse Age/Wt Owner Trainer Jockey SP
2007 Spot Thedifference 14-12-07 J P McManus Enda Bolger Mr J T McNamara 7/4 Fav
2006 Good Step 8-12-07 J P McManus Enda Bolger Miss Nina Carberry 11/2
2005 Good Step 7-12-03 J P McManus Enda Bolger Mr J T McNamara 11/2
2004 Spot Thedifference 11-11-07 J P McManus Enda Bolger Mr J T McNamara 3/1
2003 Buailtes And Fadas 8-11-12 J P McManus Enda Bolger Conor O'Dwyer 8/1
2002 Risk Of Thunder 13-11-12 Sean Connery Enda Bolger Mr J T McNamara 9/4 Fav
2001 No race
2000 Risk Of Thunder 11-12-07 Sean Connery Enda Bolger Ken Whelan 2/7 Fav
1999 Risk Of Thunder 10-12-07 Sean Connery Enda Bolger Mr Enda Bolger 4/5 Fav
1998 Risk Of Thunder 9-12-07 Sean Connery Enda Bolger Mr Enda Bolger 11/10 Fav
1997 Risk Of Thunder 8-12-07 Sean Connery Enda Bolger Mr Enda Bolger 4/9 Fav
CHELTENHAM HUNTER CHASE EVENING ON MAY 2
LIVE JAZZ IN THE CENTAUR WITH RAY GELATO
Meeting: The Hunter Chase Evening
Date: Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Admission Prices: Admission prices are for the Club/Tattersalls combined £20 (£15 for 16 to 24 year-olds) and Best Mate Enclosure £7 (£13 supplement for the jazz concert). Accompanied children under 16 gain FREE admission.
Cheltenham Racecourse brings the curtain down on a fantastic 2006/07 season when staging an evening of thrilling hunter chase action on Wednesday, May 2, followed by live jazz from singer and master saxophonist Ray Gelato in the Centaur.
Cheltenham’s only evening fixture of the year sees Prestbury Park hark back to the sport’s roots as competitors from the hunting field and point-to-point arena enjoy their traditional dedicated fixture at the home of Jump racing, which in the past has witnessed victories from hunter chase stars such as Double Silk and Cavalero.
Gates open at 3pm and racing commences at 5.20pm with the CATS At The Centaur Hunters' Chase over two miles, five furlongs of the New Course, featuring the intriguing prospect of presentations by members of the CATS cast in full costume. The West End production of CATS The Musical is being staged at The Centaur at Cheltenham Racecourse between June 12 & 30 this year.
The £7,500 www.cheltenham.co.uk Champion Hunters' Chase (5.55pm) gives competitors an added thrill as it is run over the totesport Gold Cup course and distance of three miles, two and a half furlongs.
Clive Mulhall partnered Mister Friday to success in the last two renewals of the championship contest, while the 1993 running went to the Reg Wilkins-owned and trained Double Silk, who was twice a winner of the Christies’ Foxhunter Challenge Chase at The Festival (1993 and 1994) under regular rider Ron Treloggan.
The £7,000 Hiscox Intermediate Point-To-Point Championship Final Hunters' Chase (6.30pm) is run over an extended three miles, one furlong. The race, sponsored by specialist insurers Hiscox, is the finale to a series of intermediate point-to-points staged around Britain and was won last year by Latzod'alm, who made all under a brilliantly judged ride from Will Hill.
The £5,500 Colin Nash Memorial (For the Hunt Staff Benefit Society) United Hunts’ Challenge Cup (7.05pm) is one of the hunter chase highlights of the season, and was won by the amazing Double Silk at the age of 12 in 1996.
Double Silk, who also won the Hiscox Intermediate Point-To-Point Championship Final in 1992, went on to finish runner-up to Celtic Abbey in the 1997 running of the Colin Nash Memorial United Hunts' Challenge Cup and filled the same position as a venerable 14-year-old in the 1998 contest, after a thrilling duel with Cavalero up the famous Cheltenham hill.
The John Manners-trained Cavalero went on to secure the 2000 Christie's Foxhunter Challenge Chase at The Festival.
The £7,500 Winning Post At Cheltenham Hunters' Chase is over the marathon trip of four miles, one furlong and was won last year by 5/2 favourite Bosham Mill who finished third in the Doncaster Cup in his younger days as a classy Flat racer. The Philip Hobbs-trained gelding was ridden to victory by this season's young riding sensation, Tom O'Brien, the leading conditional of the 2006/07 campaign.
The on-track action concludes at 8.15pm with the Amateur Jockeys Association Investing in Racing Hunters' Chase over an extended two miles, but racegoers have no excuse for an early night with bars remaining open until 10pm and live jazz in the Centaur.
Racegoers and jazz fans are in for a treat as renowned singer/saxophonist Ray Gelato and his swinging band provide classic Las Vegas-style entertainment in conjunction with Cheltenham Jazz Festival.
The fantastic evening rounds off an excellent season at Cheltenham, which began in October with the Martin Pipe raceday in honour of the then recently retired 15-times champion jump trainer.
Prestbury Park is synonymous with elite performances and the last few months have witnessed plenty of those, chief among them being the brilliant Kauto Star’s tremendous victory in the totesport Gold Cup at The Festival in March, which marked him as one of the sport’s greats.
Exotic Dancer was a gallant runner-up that day but Jonjo O'Neill's charge enjoyed an exceptional campaign at Cheltenham where he secured the Grade Three Paddy Power Gold Cup, Grade Three Boylesports.com Gold Cup and the Grade Two Letheby & Christopher Chase prior to his totesport Gold Cup effort.
Cheltenham has also heralded new champions in Sublimity, who truly was sublime in winning the Smurfit-Kappa Champion Hurdle, as well as Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Voy Por Ustedes, while Inglis Drever showed his redoubtable qualities in reclaiming the Ladbrokes World Hurdle crown he took in 2005.
The remarkable Spot Thedifference twice delighted his legion of fans this season when winning the Sporting Index Chase at The Open in November and the Sporting Index Handicap Chase at the Boylesports International meeting the following month. The Enda Bolger-trained gelding has now won an amazing six races over Cheltenham's cross-country course.
Other highlights include the stunning victories of Denman (Royal & SunAlliance Chase) and My Way De Solzen (Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy) at The Festival, which saw them emerge as legitimate pretenders to Kauto's Star's crown and set pulses racing at the prospect of all three lining up for the 2008 totesport Gold Cup, and the remarkable season of the Alan-King trained Katchit, who won four consecutive races at Cheltenham this season, culminating in a facile victory in the JCB Triumph Hurdle
DRAYTON SET TO WORK ON TRACK PRIOR TO GUINEAS BID
Drayton, trained in South Africa by Mike De Kock, arrived safely in Newmarket on Sunday night ahead of his tilt at the Stan James 2000 Guineas at the NatWest Rowley Mile on Saturday, May 5. The colt will get acquainted with the NatWest Rowley Mile at 7.30am this Saturday (April 28), familiarising himself with the saddling boxes and Parade Ring before working on the track at about 8am.
Drayton, formerly trained in Ireland by Tommy Stack and who has to date run just once for Mike De Kock when contesting a six furlong race in Dubai in March, is the first and so far the only De Kock horse to arrive in Newmarket. He will be joined by a host of stable companions over the coming few weeks as De Kock realises his goal to have a major satellite operation based at the "Home of Horseracing" to target Europe's top races.