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Dublin: 12°C Tuesday 29 September 2020

Bellshill secures glory for Mullins and Ruby in Gold Cup at Leopardstown

Bellshill edged out Road To Respect by a short head this afternoon.

Ruby Walsh celebrates winning with Bellshill at Leopardstown today.
Ruby Walsh celebrates winning with Bellshill at Leopardstown today.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

SUPERIOR JUMPING TOLD as Bellshill edged out Road To Respect by a short head in the Irish Gold Cup, giving trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh their second Grade One of the day and third of the week.

The quick ground precipitated the withdrawal of six intended runners, reducing the field to four, but patrons were treated to a pulsating finish nonetheless.

Walsh sent Bellshill on initially but Seán Flanagan moved Road To Respect ahead down the back.

Noel Meade’s charge fluffed his lines on a couple of occasions over the obstacles however, while Bellshill jumped upsides or to the lead with some prodigious leaps.

It still looked like Road To Respect was going to take the spoils as he accelerated around the turn and went about a length in front clearing the last.

Bellshill quickly reeled him in but found the Gigginstown House Stud charge a tough nut to crack, eventually prevailing by the tightest of margins to give his trainer his 10th success in this race and his rider a phenomenal 207th Grade One in total.

Mullins has yet to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, finishing second six times, and Bellshill earned quotes of around 12/1 to end that fallow run.

“Our fellow was great when Ruby wanted a jump” said Mullins. “Ruby was riding so confident that when he wanted to jump he just took two lengths out of the others.

“We’re very keen to bring him over to Cheltenham (for the Gold Cup). He wanted the run badly at Christmas. I think we’ve improved and hopefully there’s more to come.”

The select overseas challenge had struggled to make an impact to date but Warren Greatrex and his mare La Bague Au Roi got the English on the board with a teak tough success in the third Grade One of the day, the Flogas Novice Chase.

Favourite, Delta Work was withdrawn due to the quick ground, leaving La Bague Au Roi to go off the 10/11 favourite.

British champion jockey, Richard Johnson sent the eight-year-old into the lead immediately and though the remaining five runners looked ready to gang up on her, La Bague Au Roi found plenty to leave them in her wake.

It was left to 33/1 outsider Kaiser Black, trained by point-to-point king Pat Doyle and ridden by his US-based son Jack, to chase her home late on, getting to within a length and a quarter at the line.

“She’s incredible” said a relieved Greatrex. “It’s been the plan for a long time and for her to come to Ireland and produce it on the biggest stage, I couldn’t be happier.

“I’ve said all along I’m not totally convinced Cheltenham is her track but it’s gonna be tempting, isn’t it? She’s pretty much the best in England and Ireland now. We’ll see how she is when she gets home but she’s won two Grade Ones now. It’s unbelievable.”

Earlier Ruby Walsh produced a power-packed drive after the last for the very willing Klassical Dream to deny Willie Mullins stablemate Aramon by a head in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle.

Walsh is by far the most successful jockey in National Hunt history when it comes to Grade One success and this was number 206 for the Kildare pilot.

That no other jockey has even registered a century of top-flight winners puts Walsh’s mesmeric feat into perspective and the 39-year-old illustrated that there is no dimming of his powers here.

That he chose Klassical Dream over Aramon, who he had piloted to Grade One success here at Christmas, certainly surprised many observers and it looked like he had gotten it wrong when Paul Townend moved past after the last flight.

Aramon was almost a half-length ahead mid-way up the finishing straight but Walsh got down to work and galvanised a final, lung-bursting effort from his partner, who inched ahead in the dying strides.

“He was tough” said Walsh. “He got the better of Gordon’s horse going to the last and then Paul arrived on Aramon and kept me good and tight at the back of the last!

“We were hoping Klassical Dream would have improved from Christmas. You’re looking for maybe a standout novice and I think on softer ground, Klassical Dream would improve again. On slower ground, two miles would suit him. On that ground, two is as sharp as he’d want it.”

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Earlier Sir Erec confirmed the promise of his Christmas debut by trouncing a packed field in the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle in the opening Grade One of the afternoon.

A high-class flat performer, who finished third to the all-conquering Stradivarius in the British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot in October, the son of Camelot moved from Aidan O’Brien’s stewardship to that of his son Joseph and has taken to hurdling with aplomb.

The unseasonably dry conditions and resultant quickening ground has led to a raft of non-runners and Coeur Sublime’s withdrawal did rob this race of a major contender.

It was still deep however, with the Willie Mullins-trained Tiger Tap Tap only having a neck to make up on Sir Erec, Chief Justice a Grade Three victor, and Surin and Gardens Of Babylon also having strong form.

Sir Erec took up the running from the drop of the flag and was never challenged. It did look for a moment as if Ruby Walsh was ready to make a challenge on Tiger Tap Tap, but Mark Walsh had saved plenty of energy on the pacesetter, who pinged the last and accelerated clear to win by six lengths from staying-on stablemate, Gardens Of Babylon, with Surin in third.

It was the second one-two for O’Brien Junior in a Grade One this weekend after Le Richebourg, also owned by JP McManus, defeated Us And Them in yesterday’s Frank Ward Solicitors Novice Chase.

“Making the running wasn’t absolutely ideal but he’s very complicated” said O’Brien.

“Mark gave him a lovely ride, got him in a great rhythm and he said when the horse heard the horse heard the horses behind him going to the second last he jumped on the bridle and he knew from there he was in good shape.”

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Daragh Ó Conchúir

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