THERE could hardly have been a more popular winner of Sunday’s Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Leopardstown than Joncol.
Such a comment mostly centres on the fact he is trained by Paul Nolan, who always seems to be upbeat and in rather good form.
Nolan is regarded in the press-room as being in the Dermot Weld league when it comes to post-race interviews.
The press love a trainer who gives them good copy and lots of it. And Nolan very much fits into that category. He gives a full and comprehensive report on his horses in the winner’s enclosure, has plenty to say, doesn’t seem to think he should treat the press with suspicion and is, essentially, a scribbler’s delight.
Nolan has an easy-going manner and a smile, or even a burst of laughter, are never far away.
He seems to be game for a bit of fun as well and people just like him, it’s as simple as that.
The Hennessy was Nolan’s biggest success to date and it was most interesting to watch his body language in the aftermath of Joncol’s last-gasp victory.
Sometimes we forget how much pressure both trainers and jockeys are under on big-race days like this.
After Joncol had won, Nolan looked like someone who had been told seconds earlier that he was to be spared the guillotine.
All the pent-up emotions began to spill out and his whole demeanour was a mixture of ecstasy and sheer relief. I think we were all delighted for him.
And what of the race itself? Well, I think Alain Cawley emerged with great credit from the contest and full marks to Joncol’s connections for having the courage to stick with him.
Cawley is a good young rider, but a virtual novice compared to the likes of Walsh, McCoy and Russell.
The manner in which Ruby rode Cooldine in front made Cawley’s task even harder. Willie Mullins indicated to Walsh that he was worried about Cooldine’s match-fitness and so the rider deliberately set off in front to make it a slow pace.
The gallop was so pedestrian that Joncol only covered the three miles 0.9 seconds faster than it took the 11-year-old Kilty Storm to win the following Hunters Chase.
A year earlier Neptune Collonges, also partnered by Walsh, won the Hennessy in a time 9.6 seconds faster than it took Agus A Vic in the Hunters Chase.
Walsh’s cheeky tactics almost reaped a huge dividend. He was allowed to do as he liked in front and it was surprising that some other rider didn’t put it up to him much earlier.
Cawley has to be exempt from such criticism, because his orders were to hold onto Joncol much more than in the Lexus and would have been slated if he had done anything else and it hadn’t worked.
Joncol is a great jumper, who takes a fair hold, but with Walsh cantering along in the lead the young man’s task became doubly difficult.
In the end he got it spot-on and the difference between being a hero and a nearly-man was the neck Joncol had to spare over Cooldine at the death.
The way Cooldine travelled in the ante-post market and in the betting ring at Leopardstown was quite remarkable. He was a fair mover leading into the race, 4-1 to 7-4. Then Mullins started to edge on the negative side and wondered aloud as to why his horse was favourite?
In the early betting at Leopardstown Cooldine was friendless, prior to being thumped from 4-1 to 5-2. Someone, somewhere, felt they knew more than Mullins.
Anyway, the whole history of this horse is that he is likely to make massive improvement in the coming weeks and the way he seemed to adore Cheltenham last year should not be underestimated.
Maybe, he isn’t good enough to trouble either Kauto Star or Denman, but the 4-1 available this week, without the big two, was splendid value.
SO, are you a player or a layer when it comes to Dunguib in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham?
I think most people now agree, in the wake of what he did at Leopardstown, that an adequate round of jumping at the Festival will see him win by a street.
He should not have been able to do what he did on Sunday, given the dreadful exhibition of jumping he produced.
And yet Dunguib never had to get out of second gear to beat Fionnegas, which I’ll bet my bottom dollar is a good horse.
But don’t be rushing around to back him at odds-on, which all those brave ante-post firms now offer.
The books will want to lay him big-time come the day, on the basis there’s no comparison between two and quarter miles on heavy ground at Leopardstown and a fast-run two-miler, on a much quicker surface, at Cheltenham.
They will take Dunguib on, knowing the get-out clause is that if he jumps the way he did at Leopardstown then there’s every chance of getting him beaten.
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