There were plenty of pointers for the time ahead on the opening day of the big Lopardstown Christmas meeting on St Stephen’s Day.
While there were a couple of expensive failures the racing was top class.
Willie Mullins was expected to dominate the fixture and things looked on track when the long odds on favourite Clondaw Court got up in the last stride to take the opening maiden hurdle the wheels came off later as both Analifet and Champagne Fever were turned over at restricted odds.
The Court Cave gelding Clondaw Court who was an impressive bumper for Colin Bowe before bring purchases by Mullins and the money looked well spent when he bolted up in a Punchestown bumper over a year ago.
He has obviously had his problems in the interim but the vibes suggested that he was fit and ready for the fray and punters waded in as though there was no tomorrow sending him off a 2/9 chance.
Given a patient ride by Ruby Walsh Clondaw Court’s hurdling was a shade on the novicey side and Walsh was hard at work turning to face the judge as the leader Little Rocky was showing no signs of stopping.
Neither horse was exactly fluent at the final flight however, Walsh received enough response from his mount to shade the verdict by a short head.
While the form is hardly good enough to justify the pre race hype the winner suffered from ring rustiness a fact admitted by Mullins post race, a step up in trip is almost certain but considerable improvement is needed if the horse is to feature among the trainers plans for Cheltenham.
That exciting mare Analifet looked a penalty kick Grade2 Juvenile Hurdle over two miles but she got no further than the third flight when she was pulled up injured and is probably out for the season which is a huge pity.
Guitar Pete availed of the misfortune to the Mullins runner by being always prominent before leading on the run to the final flight and comfortably defeating Clarcam by seven lengths.
Described by winning trainer Dessie Hughes as ‘a smashing little horse’ Guitar Pete had run a blinder at the November meeting at Cheltenham and will return to the Cotswolds for either the Triumph Hurdle or the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle and on this evidence is not without a chance.
Champagne Fever who has been successful in the Champion Bumper and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on the two previous outings at Cheltenham and is currently among the favourites for the Arkle Chase on the strength of an impressive debut over fences at Punchestown caught a real tarter in the shape of Defy Logic in the Grade1 Novice Chase over two mile and a furlong and eventually had to be content with third place.
There was precious little between Defy Logic and Champagne Fever from the outset as that set a cracking gallop, the former was a shade slow four out and again at the third last but the turning point came at the second last when Champagne fever hit it hard and lost his momentum.
To his credit he rallied but the bird had flown and Defy Logic went away to win decisively by three and a half from Trifolium who caught a tiring Champagne Fever in the straight.
The old adage of fences are there to be jumped came very much to mind but it is not certain that the favourite was going to deliver in any case as Defy Logic had also lost momentum at both the third and fourth last fences.
He has always been held in the highest regard by his trainer Paul Nolan who told me that he will now return to the venue for a tilt at the Irish Arkle before heading what looks like being a strong Irish challenge for the Cheltenham equilevant come March.
Boherlahan based Davy Russell was seen to distinct advantage when striking late on the well backed Sea Light to take the 86-116 handicap hurdle and clock up his 1000th winner in the process.
An easy winner when landing a gamble at Thurles last month the son of Brian Boru was again in plenty of demand in spite of a stiff hike in the handicap, after chasing the leaders Russell moved his mount into contention going to the second last before hitting the front at the final hurdle and under a hands and heels ride landed the spoils by three lengths from the outsider beneficial Spirit.
Trained by Charles Byrnes who is a feared man when the money is down the winner will now incur another rise in the weights but won in the style of a horse that still has a little up his sleeve.