Yes, First Gold, the first French horse to ever run at the Festival, absolutely lit up Punchestown yesterday, producing a quite scintillating performance to land the Heineken Gold Cup in front of an attendance of 22,000.
This was breathtaking. These fences take real jumping, but First Gold treated them with total disdain.
He made every yard of the running, turning in an exhibition round of jumping, as he attacked every obstacle with a gay abandon.
For pilot, Thierry Doumen, it was yet another majestic display and, certainly, his critics are rapidly disappearing.
Only Rince Ri was able to throw down any sort of challenge in the closing stages. His jumping too was superb, but hard as Mick Fitzgerald tried Rince Ri could never get in a real blow.
Commented trainer, Francois Doumen: "You can talk about flat tracks and whatever, but he (First Gold) has gone out there and proved himself again today.
"The horse had a shoulder problem and it took a long time to get him right. He and Thierry get on really well.
"They have been together five years. Thierry first rode him when he was only eighteen, they have matured together. Now I can prepare him with confidence for Cheltenham.”
Cashmans reacted by making First Gold a 20-1 chance for the Gold Cup, from 25’s. They go 6-4 Best Mate and 8-1 Beef Or Salmon.
Mick Fitzgerald was hugely impressed with Rince Ri. "He is tailor-made for Aintree”, said Fitzgerald.”
Native Upmanship again failed to get the trip. He travelled sweetly at the back for Conor O’Dwyer, but could not raise his tempo when asked to close heading to the home turn.
Foxchapel King, who finished last, did a suspensory on his off-fore and has been retired.
Willie Mullins’ horses are finally hitting top gear and he saddled first, second and sixth in the ultra-competitive Colm McEvoy Auctioneers’ Novice Handicap Chase.
Victory went to 12-1 shot Rule Supreme, who proved too strong for 11-4 favourite, Hedgehunter.
Trail-blazing Tribal Dancer had just about cried enough when toppling over two out, leaving Hedgehunter in front.
But he had no answer to his stable companion, as David Casey drove Rule Supreme past at the final fence.
Said Mullins: "I am delighted with all three of mine. They will be nice horses to go handicap chasing next season.”
Barry Geraghty, who hadn’t been having the best of luck at the meeting, got off the mark on Noel Meade’s Harchibald in the Kielys’ Of Donnybrook Hurdle.
The winner stalked front-running favourite Smugglers Song for much of the journey and then coasted past going to the last to beat Master Papa cosily.
"He’s got great speed and scope, but has been disappointing me all year”, reported Meade.
"I do think the world of this horse and, hopefully, he will prove me right yet.”
Jim Culloty continued his terrific run when giving Jessica Harrington’s Aye Aye Popeye a copybook drive to win the Tattersalls Novice Hurdle.
Mullacash and Plenty Of Ice looked to have the contest between them early in the straight, but Culloty brought the winner with a sweeping surge to ease clar on the flat.
"He’s had a nice long break and always runs best fresh”, said Harrington.
"The race was run to suit him, they went very quick.”
The trainer had an upbeat bulletin regarding her stable star Moscow Flyer, following his second last fence mishap the previous afternoon.
"He’s perfect and thinks he won!”, reported Harrington.
Market leader, Supreme Developer, made a dreadful blunder at the fourth and had no chance after that.
Some big reputations were sunk in the Paddy Power Bumper, with victory going to English invader, Nicky Henderson’s Royal Rosa.
Powerfully handled by Aidan Fitzgerald, Royal Rosa made the long run for home well before the straight and was always holding Royal Alphabet.
Edward O’Grady’s Kickham was a huge punt in the ring, hardening from a little 3-1, mostly 5-2, to 6-4. He was struggling half a mile from home.
This was the biggest betting race of the day, with the layers holding a whopping 584,564.
O’Grady was out of luck as well when his hot-pot Sheltering proved no match for What Odds in the Cox’s Cash and Carry Champion Hunters Chase.
What Odds, carrying the Monty’s Pass colours of the Dee Racing Syndicate, headed by the now legendary Michael Futter, made every yard of the running to score by ten lengths.
Futter, who won a colossal amount of money when Monty’s Pass landed the English National, was active in the ring here as well.
"I did back it, each-way and on the nose”, said Futter.
The trainer was very confident and I thought Sheltering was beatable, he’s had some hard races.”
The trainer in question was Tucker Geraghty, father of Barry Geraghty.
Permit holder John Morrison enjoyed a welcome turn when Crimson Flower ran away with the J F Dunne Insurances Handicap Hurdle.
Enterprisingly handled by Willie Slattery, Crimson Flower went on heading to two out and was clear well before the last.
Owner J P McManus, successful with First Gold in the Heineken, completed a double when Buailtes And Fadas took the CSL Associates Chase.
The winner led from the fourth and held on for dear life close home under John Thomas McNamara as Line Your Pockets closed to within half a length.
Paul Carberry, who has been absent with a thigh injury suffered in a fall at Fairyhouse, will be out of action for another seven days.