What A Friend, part-owned by Alex Ferguson, is a long way down the pecking-order at Paul Nicholls’ and yet was able to slam the best we could offer.
To put it in context, What A Friend was well beaten in the Hennessy at Newbury by Denman, who conceded him no less than 22lbs.
Barry Geraghty was set to ride What A Friend on Monday, but had to go to Newbury yesterday, and Nicholls called on Sam Thomas.
“I flew in this morning”, said a delighted Thomas. “I was disappointed I wasn’t riding him in the first place, although Barry has a lot of experience round here. The gods were certainly smiling on me and everything happens for a reason.”
Notre Pere and Joncol were the principals for much of the journey and the latter was set to make the long run for home when blundering at the third last.
It only delayed him taking over in front, however, and he was soon leading them all a merry dance.
But Joncol began to tire heading to the final fence, went a little to his right over it and then started to hang towards the stands’ side.
Thomas now had What A Friend powering forward and, coming up the centre of the track, was always going to close down Joncol.
Money Trix finished to real effect to grab second, but was never going to trouble What A Friend.
Said Thomas: “He is not ungenuine, but you wouldn’t want to hit the front too soon on him. He jumped the last brilliantly and this shows what a horse Denman is. I think he (What A Friend) can go on to bigger and better things.”
Neither Nicholls or Ferguson were present, but the word from connections is that What A Friend will return to Ireland for the Hennessy in February.
Davy Russell, who partnered Money Trix, was found guilty of using his whip with excessive force and frequency and suspended for two days.
Cooldine, who disappointed and was pulled up before the last, coughed after the race and didn’t scope clean.
Solwhit gave his Champion Hurdle prospects a big boost when beating Sublimity by two lengths in the Leopardstown Golf Centre December Festival Hurdle.
There was little doubt beforehand he was the best horse in the contest and when Won In The Dark carried them along at a decent gallop the deal was more or less sealed.
Davy Russell committed Solwhit early in the straight with Sublimity, who erred at the fourth, emerging as the only danger.
Sublimity was close enough at the last, but Solwhit is a tough nut and was well on top at the line.
Said trainer, Charles Byrnes: “He will probably now go for the Irish Champion Hurdle (Leopardstown).
“It was a three furlongs sprint at Newcastle the last day, while they went a reasonably even pace today. As well as that the rain came in time.
“The plan after the Irish Champion is the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, but good ground there would be a concern. He is a really good jumper, the best I have ever had.”
Boylesports shortened him from 5-1 to 4’s for Cheltenham, while Solwhit is 9-2, from 5-1, with William Hill.
Voler La Vedette justified odds of 1-3 with a cosy two length success in the Listed ITBA Fillies Scheme EBF Mares’ Hurdle, but was less than impressive.
She travelled nicely through the contest and picked up well when asked to lead at the final flight, but didn’t appear to have a whole lot more in the tank in the closing stages.
The performance, however, seemed to please trainer, Colm Murphy. “It’s nice to get that out of the way, she was doing too much through the race”, said Murphy.
“She will now run in the Irish Champion Hurdle back here at the end of January and will be better suited by two miles and a faster pace.
“The mares’ race at Cheltenham would look the obvious target, but she will get an entry in the Champion as well. The Irish Champion will help us to make up our minds.”
Murphy completed a double when Zaarito produced a polished display, under Denis O’Regan, to take the Ryans’ Event Cleaners Beginners Chase, prompting Boylesports to introduce him at 16-1 for the Arkle at Cheltenham.
It was a particularly decent effort, considering Zaarito was hampered at the first when Chasing Cars fell.
He came there absolutely swinging off the home turn, however, cruising away to score unextended by eight lengths.
Said Murphy: “I am delighted with the manner in which he did that and he can go up or down in trip.”
Conor O’Farrell was seen to advantage when giving John Hanlon’s Western Leader an enterprising drive to take the Ryans’ Event Cleaners Maiden Hurdle.
Western Leader made all the running, grabbing a decisive lead when kicking hard early in the straight.
Acapulco was soon out after the winner, but hard as he tried couldn’t quite get there and was a short head adrift at the line.
Commented Hanlon: “The step up in trip was a big help and he jumped a lot better than at Gowran. He will go for a two and a half mile novice hurdle somewhere in a month’s time.”
The Acapulco connections, Andrew McNamara and Edward O’Grady, redressed the balance when teaming up to take the Paddy Fitzpatrick Memorial Hurdle with Fen Game.
It was a first of the meeting for O’Grady, who had gone close on more than one occasion through the week.
McNamara was in no hurry, timing his challenge from behind to perfection to ease past front-running Save The Bacon.
“He ran well the last day, we thought had improved and took the precaution of fitting him with a tongue-tie”, reported O’Grady.
Willie Mullins’ heavily-backed Don’t Turn Bach, taken at 3-1 in the morning and returned at 6-4, won the Bumper.
Pushed ahead before the final bend by Patrick Mullins, he battled on relentlessly to hold the persistent effort of Our Girl Salley.
“He’s an out-and-out stayer, will go for a maiden hurdle in the New Year and is a chaser in the making”, said Mullins.
The Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Chase went to Scavenger, who got the best of a dour tussle with Tiernan’s Terror.