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Dublin: 1 °C Wednesday 26 February, 2020
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Donn McClean: Delta Work a serious prospect for Cheltenham Gold Cup despite losing Jack Kennedy

The Gordon Elliott-trained horse stormed to victory at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Jack Kennedy had surgery on a leg injury after being unseated in the Grade A Handicap Chase at Leopardstown.
Jack Kennedy had surgery on a leg injury after being unseated in the Grade A Handicap Chase at Leopardstown.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

THAT’S THE SOUND of dust-settling and stock-taking.

It’s difficult to believe that the Dublin Racing Festival is only three years old. It feels like its roots are more deeply embedded into the racing calendar than that.

The 2020 edition last weekend promised much, and it delivered lots. The meeting kicked off with Latest Exhibition, and that was a perfect start, a feel-good start. Paul Nolan’s horse didn’t travel like a likely winner for most of the way, but he has an engine. Bryan Cooper was riding him along at the second last flight, several of his rivals appeared to be travelling better, but none of them stayed on as well as he did. He hit the front half-way up the run-in and went on to win by two lengths.

There was genuine delight around the place for Paul Nolan and Bryan Cooper, teaming up with a Grade 1 winner who has the potential to go higher. And for Jim Mernagh, who bred Latest Exhibition and who owned all of him until after he beat Andy Dufresne in the Grade 2 Navan Novice Hurdle in December. He still owns some of him, as evidenced by the purple body and the gold hoop on Bryan Cooper’s torso, even if the sleeves and the cap are different now, and it’s only right that the horse stays with Nolan.

The trainer said that it’s almost certain now that, all being well, Latest Exhibition will go for the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at Cheltenham, and you have to think that, given his style of racing, the step up to three miles could bring about even further improvement.

bryan-cooper Bryan Cooper with Latest Exhibition. Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

It looks like Delta Work is improving too. Gordon Elliott’s horse probably put up a career-best when he landed the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup on Sunday.

He lost a few fans when he could only finish fourth behind Road To Respect in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal on his debut this term. In the aftermath, many questioned the strength of last season’s staying novice chasers.

When Topofthegame, Santini and Delta Work finished 1-2-3 in the RSA Chase at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, it was widely acknowledged that all three could easily take the step up into open company this term. But Topofthegame was ruled out for the season and Delta Work got beaten at Down Royal and Santini scraped home at Sandown, and suddenly they weren’t so good after all.

Now look. Santini won the Cotswold Chase and Delta Work has added the Irish Gold Cup to his Savills Chase. Different story. They’re good again. It was a third Irish Gold Cup for Gigginstown House, but it was a first for both Gordon Elliott and for rider Jack Kennedy. It was a big prize, a big day.

Now that the dust has settled, you can start to think about the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and Delta Work is a serious player in the race. He has Cheltenham Festival form, he won the Pertemps Final two years ago as a five-year-old, and he finished a close-up third in the RSA Chase last year. His jumping has improved with experience, he jumped well on Sunday, and the step up to three miles and two-and-a half furlongs at Cheltenham should suit him. And he is only seven. He could improve again.

Bookmakers cut his Cheltenham Gold Cup odds to no better than 6/1 after Sunday’s race, but that still looks big.

Just shows you, the ups and downs of National Hunt racing. It’s desperate for Jack Kennedy that he won’t get to ride Delta Work in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, that he had that fall in the very next race and broke his femur. It must be gutting. He has youth on his side though. All things being equal, he should have many more opportunities to ride a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner.

Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore had a downer on Sunday when Aspire Tower fell at the final flight when still looking a likely winner in the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle – a race in which the Joseph O’Brien-trained A Wave Of The Sea stayed on strongly under Barry Geraghty to win well – but it was all up on Saturday, as the pair of them teamed up for a Grade 1 double with Notebook and Honeysuckle.

notebook-ridden-by-rachel-blackmore Rachel Blackmore on board Notebook. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Notebook jumped with characteristic alacrity in the ERSG Arkle Chase, and battled on well to get the better of the gallant Cash Back, while Honeysuckle had to dig deep to win the PCI Irish Champion Hurdle. She wasn’t overly impressive, it appeared that she lost concentration after hitting the front on landing over the last, but she was game in battling back to beat Darver Star and Petit Mouchoir.

She won the race, she retained her unbeaten record, she went left-handed, and she did it all over two miles. She is a fantastic mare. And then you think Cheltenham: Champion Hurdle or Mares’ Hurdle? It’s a difficult one, and this performance did not make the decision any easier.

Willie Mullins was at it again. Asterion Forlonge won the Grade 1 Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle, and Chacun Pour Soi beat his stable companion Min for a Mullins 1-2 in the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Dublin Chase, and Appreciate It was impressive in winning the Grade 2 Goffs Future Stars Bumper.

And then there was Faugheen. Twelve years old and still swinging. He battled on bravely for Paul Townend to beat his six-year-old and six-year-younger stable companion Easy Game in the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase, then came back to the winner’s enclosure and lapped up the adulation.

The weekend wasn’t only about Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott and Joseph O’Brien and Henry de Bromhead. Other trainers got on the score sheet. On Saturday, Paul Nolan bagged his Grade 1 prize and Charles Byrnes produced Thosedaysaregone to land the Ladbrokes Hurdle under Kevin Brouder.

That completed a hat-trick of Ladbrokes Hurdles for the trainer, following on from Off You Go’s two-in-a-row, and it was his fourth Ladbrokes Hurdle in total, 16 years after Dromlease Express had brought up his first. It is some record to have in one of the most competitive handicap hurdles on the Irish racing calendar, and Thosedaysaregone was his only runner over the course of the weekend.

treacysenniscorthy-ridden-by-kevin-brouder Treacysenniscorthy gave a brave performance to land the William Fry Handicap Hurdle. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

On Sunday, the Robert Widger-trained Treacysenniscorthy put up a brave performance to land the William Fry Handicap Hurdle. Sent to the front from flagfall by Kevin Brouder, the Beneficial gelding fought off all-comers and got home by a length and a half from the Ronan McNally-trained The Jam Man in a battle of the small yards.

That’s four wins from his last four runs for Treacysenniscorthy, a 21-runner handicap hurdle, a 15-runner handicap hurdle, a 25-runner handicap hurdle, and now a 28-runner handicap hurdle. So in his last four runs, he has beaten 85 rivals and has been beaten by none. It’s some record, and it has seen his handicap rating rise from 102 in mid-November to 138. He should be high enough now to get into the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham.

And Glamorgan Duke battled back well to win the Gaelic Plant Hire Leopardstown Handicap Chase. Paul Gilligan’s horse looked beaten when Trainwreck joined him at the by-passed final fence and went on, but the Flemensfirth gelding battled back well for Conor Maxwell on the far side, and got his head back up on the line.

Of course, it will be very interesting to monitor the Dublin Racing Festival protagonists as the season progresses, at Cheltenham and Aintree and Fairyhouse and Punchestown. But the Dublin Racing Festival is a destination, it’s not a stop on the road to anywhere.

The prize money and the racing is top class. The races are varied enough to provide a race in your discipline if you are good enough, but also limited enough to force competition. It strikes the right balance.

The ground was fast enough on Saturday, and it was a shame that Fakir D’Oudairies and A Plus Tard were scratched because of it, but the times on the day tell you that it was softer on Sunday. It’s not easy to get it right, weather forecasts and drying conditions in February being what they are and all, and Leopardstown’s drains, but Sunday’s ground was welcomed by most. Sunday’s ground should surely be the goal in future years.

The stock-taking continues.

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About the author:

Donn McClean

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