What seemed a straightforward card for the first few days of the big Leopardstown Christmas meeting turned into a disaster for punters.
With favourite after favourite falling by the wayside, many punters were left well out of pocket by the end of the last race on Saturday.
The biggest offender on the opening was Jim Bolger’s Fiscal Focus, who caused a 33/1 upset in the Grade Two juvenile hurdle under Mikey Fogarty.
Trained by Dessie McDonagh, the 88-rated flat campaigner had a dream hurdling debut, delivering a commanding performance to beat the Triumph Hurdle favourite Kalkir.
Everything seemed to be going to plan for Kalkir as he closed on the leaders before the straight, but you could almost hear a pin drop once Fogarty shot Fiscal Focus to the front going to the last flight before landing the spoils by a couple of lengths.
Speaking after the race McDonagh said his charge was all class. McDonagh, who saddled the gallant little Monksfield to a couple of Champion Hurdles victories many moons ago, must now be dreaming of further Cotswold glory come March when the Triumph Hurdle will be the target.
Also Cheltenham-bound is the Willie Mullins-trained Alviso Ville, who made an eye-catching hurdling bow to capture the opening four-year-old maiden hurdle.
An imposing gelding, Alviso Ville came with a glowing home reputation and went home with an even bigger one. Always travelling well under Paul Townend, once he was given the office he scampered clear to win very much as he liked by five and a half lengths from the Mouse Morris charge Baily Green.
Although he fiddled one or two of his hurdles the winner oozed class. He must be a strong contender for top honours in the chosen Cheltenham contest.
Vautour was the most impressive novice chaser to hit the track in a long time. He was an almost unbackable favourite to land the Grade One Novice Chase over two mile and a furlong, but things did not go to plan and he had to be content with a share of second place behind Clarcam.
Real Steel, another Mouse Morris runner, set the pace with Vautour in close proximity but the complexion of the race changed five out when the favourite hit the fence hard and almost came to grief, losing all momentum.
To his credit, Vautour recovered but by this time the bird had flown as Bryan Cooper had taken command on Clarcam. The combination finished 17 lengths ahead of the dead heaters Vautour and Ted Veale.
Willie Mullins, trainer of Vautour, reported that the Townend told him the horse never felt right but he is confident that he can rectify the problem and we will see a different animal next time.
One must take nothing away from the victory of Clarcam as he never touched a twin. Being only a four-year-old he can only improve, a fact that was confirmed by his trainer Gordon Elliott.
Jim Bolger and Dessie McDonagh were again on the mark at Saturday’s session when they combined to capture the opening juvenile with newcomer Theophilus in the hands of Danny Mullins.
A wide margin winner of a Gowran Park maiden in April, the Teofilo colt failed to sparkle when stepped up to listed level but may have found his true vocation.
Settled just off the pace, Theophilus came with a wet sail in the straight. With Mullins keeping him up to his work had six and a half lengths to spare over Hostile Fire, with the odds-on favourite Business Sivola finishing fifth.
Tony Martin is a dab hand at winning big handicaps. He did it once again when saddling Living Next Door to take the Grade B Paddy Power Chase, although the starting price of 20/1 hardly helped the hard-pressed punters.
Coming from well off the pace, the Beneficial gelding stayed on strongly from the second last to beat favourite Foxrock by a length and a quarter.
The winner was given a stylish ride by Denis O’Regan, who has plied his trade across the water for a number of years but has now gone freelance. He intends to keep contact with several Irish trainers, with a view to coming home on a regular basis.
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