After one of the most successful Christmas racing periods in living memory the old year ended on a rather eventful note at Punchestown.
Tuesday’s meeting saw Gigginstown Stud owner Michael O’Leary announce that the retainer with Davy Russell as his first jockey was to come to an end, even though the partnership had been successful earlier in the afternoon.
The rumours which have been doing the rounds for almost two years were finally confirmed, but O’Leary was at pains to explain that there was no falling out. Russell would still ride for the owner but would not have first call on what horses he would partner.
During his seven year tenure with the Gigginstown House team Russell helped himself to two jockeys titles and many high profile victories, with Cheltenham winners Sir Des Champs and First Lieutenant among the best he raced.
Experience and advice
It is fair to say that O’Leary, who also captured two owners’ crowns, benefited greatly from the experience and advice from a rider who was at the coalface to ride schooling and work right from day one.
No sooner was the split announced that the spotlight fell on Bryan Cooper to fill the vacancy. Cooper was attached to the Dessie Hughes yard and had successfully deputised for Russell when the latter was injured. O’Leary wasted no time in confirming that the 21-year-old Cooper, one of the rising stars of the jump-racing scene, had accepted the position.
Rouge Angel provided Russell with his final success in the famous maroon and white silks with an impressive victory in the opening three mile beginners chase, beating the Willie Mullins-trained hot favourite Touch Of Eden in impressive fashion.
Making every post a winning one, the son of Presenting responded well to the urgings of his rider from the third last to go right away in the straight. He landed the spoils by 11 lengths, with a further 24 lengths back to the third finisher Archie Meade.
Trained by Mouse Morris, Rouge Angel was a Galway maiden hurdle winner and the most experienced runner in the field with four previous outings over the larger obstacles. The ground and trip were an obvious help and it will be interesting to see how he progresses from here.
Undeterred by the defeat of Touch Of Eden in the opener Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh bounced back by recording a double courtesy of Boston Bob and Adriana Des Mottes.
The Bob Back gelding Boston Bob initiated the brace with a comfortable success in the two-mile and four conditions hurdle.
An odds-on chance, Boston Bob was not rushed early on by Walsh but was right on the premises rising to the second last flight and from drew steadily clear to win unchallenged by 10 lengths from the Russell-ridden Gigginstown owned Un Beau Matin.
One of our best novice hurdlers of a couple of seasons ago, the winner looked to have the RSA Chase at Cheltenham at his mercy when tipping up at the last fence. He also departed the scene on his final outing in Grade One company at this venue during the Spring festival.
The decision to revert to hurdling looks an interesting one. A tilt at the World Hurdle must be seriously under consideration after such an impressive outing.
Mullins and Walsh were back in the winners circle just half an hour later this time Adriana Des Mottes was the provider as she justified strong support in the three-year-old maiden hurdle over two miles.
With placed form in her native France the daughter of Network was obviously giving the right signals at home and punters sided with her in spite of the confidence behind Dessie Hughes’s Indian Icon.
Always travelling sweetly, Adriana Des Mottes was never headed as she passed the post no fewer than 18 lengths ahead of Halling’s Treasure. This was a most emphatic success by a clearly very decent animal. The trainer has plenty of trial tackle at this level so her movements will be monitored closely.
Graignamanagh-born Enda Bolger, who took over the mantle of one of the leading handlers of hunter chases from his father-in-law the late Pat Hogan, showed that he can produce them over hurdles as well when saddling Gilgamboa to capture the two mile and four 106-128 handicap hurdle in the hands of Mark Walsh.
Well supported, the Westerner gelding came from off the pace to led on the run to the final flight and battled well to beat Rightdownthemiddle by half a length.
Owned by J.P. McManus, who is enjoying a purple patch both here and across the water, the winner opened his account at the first time of asking at Galway in October and looks a progressive sort.