PAT KEANE: Vautour can rule Supreme after Leopardstown romp

FESTIVAL FANCY: Vautour -  the manner in which he simply kicked The Tullow Tank out of the way in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle was deeply impressive.

The Hennessy meeting at Leopardstown is a great starting point for anyone attempting to identify possible Cheltenham festival winners.

Take last year for instance. No less than four Irish heroes emerged from that day to score at Cheltenham: Our Conor, Champagne Fever, Lord Windermere and Salsify.

Lord Windermere was actually only third at Leopardstown, in the Moriarty Chase, behind Boston Bob and Texas Jack, before landing the RSA Chase at Cheltenham.

Indeed that Moriarty was a big guide to Cheltenham, because the RSA would surely have gone to Boston Bob had he not fallen at the final fence.

Hennessy day a year ago also saw Sir Des Champs land the feature and he went on to finish second to Bobs Worth in the Gold Cup.

And finally a handicap hurdle that afternoon fell to Tennis Cap, who subsequently only gave best to compatriot Ted Veale in the County Hurdle.

So, is it possible that last Sunday’s Hennessy meeting will throw up as many as four Cheltenham winners next month?

I’d say the balance of probability is that it’s unlikely, but will be amazed all of the same if a winner or two, at least, doesn’t come from what was a great afternoon’s entertainment.

You’d have to be forgiven for thinking that top of the list of possibilities has to be Willie Mullins’ Vautour in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

The manner in which he simply kicked The Tullow Tank out of the way, in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle, was deeply impressive.

This was far in advance of his scrambling three parts of a length defeat of Western Boy at Punchestown previously.

There has been plenty of chat, including from Willie Mullins, that Western Boy may well be a very good horse, which could obviously be the case.

But, I presume, we are talking possible Grade 1 winner in waiting and there is no real evidence Western Boy is any such thing at the moment.

No, in the light of what had gone before, the way Vautour treated The Tullow Tank was quite breathtaking and the ability of the Mullins-Ruby Walsh combination to identify the best way their horses should be ridden can often be a crucial factor.

I doubt more than a handful could have forecast that Vautour would make the running in the Deloitte.

After all why would he, with a readymade trail-blazer in the field in Tony Martin’s Quickpick Vic, so impressive for Walsh when making all to land a maiden in a canter at Leopardstown at Christmas.

But Vautour’s connections clearly decided that holding him up, as Paul Townend had done at Punchestown, was not the right way to ride the horse, and they could hardly have been more right.

The five-year-old is a brilliant jumper and we now know stays at least two and a quarter miles.

He was available as high as 6-1 for the Supreme Novices’ this week and there is no doubt will start way shorter come the day.

Three times this season The Tullow Tank has boosted the bank balance and it would have been well nigh sacrilege not to be with him at Leopardstown.

He ran his heart out, but was no match for Vautour and my immediate reaction was one of disappointment.

Not so much because the cash flow had been temporarily stifled, although it was a consideration, but rather that, perhaps, The Tullow Tank just isn’t as good as we thought.

Danny Mullins had his critics after the race, but when Walsh is allowed what commentators like to call an easy lead in front then there is always some jockey who is likely to get it in the ear.

For the life of me, however, I cannot see what Mullins is supposed to have done wrong.

He rode exactly the type of race that has served The Tullow Tank well in the past, gave chase to Walsh in plenty of time and the three lengths between the principals at the line was a fair reflection of Vautour’s superiority.

Anyway, I have since watched the race again, more than once, and have concluded there is still hope for The Tullow Tank at Cheltenham.

But it will have to be in the two miles and five Neptune, you just couldn’t give him a prayer in the four and a half furlongs shorter Supreme Novices’.

And here’s a theory, The Tullow Tank needs good ground to produce his best. If not then how can we explain the fact he had sufficient speed to take the Grade 1 Royal Bond at Fairyhouse in early December, on the fastest surface he has raced on all season?

On what we have subsequently learnt, there is no way he should have been capable of winning a decent two mile race on a track that hardly played to his strengths.

If our thinking is anywhere near right then the 14-1 offered by Coral this week - it soon disappeared - for the Neptune was a bit of an insult.

It will be most interesting to see how Bryan Cooper’s appeal against the six-day suspension incurred aboard Don Cossack in that three-horse affair at Leopardstown goes.

I’ve only viewed a less-than-satisfactory head-on, so have an open mind as to how the appeal will pan out.

You could argue Carlingford Lough and Tony McCoy had no business trying to poke up the inside going to the last and all Cooper was guilty of was proper race-riding.

The stewards, however, surely had access to far better pictures and they could have revealed an entirely different story.

Mind you, McCoy’s ability to ride Leopardstown is a fair way short of exemplary, just ask supporters of Jezki.


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