Kicking King imperious in Gold Cup

TOM TAAFFE summed it best of all. “There’s only one word to describe what he has done this season - class.”

Taaffe was referring to stable star and Cheltenham Gold Cup hero, Kicking King, after the imposing seven-year-old had produced an immaculate display to land the Guinness Gold Cup at Punchestown yesterday.

A couple of weeks earlier, Kicking King had toyed with his rivals at the foot of the Cotswolds and, if anything, this was even easier.

His jumping was a joy, he was quick and accurate at every obstacle and it would hardly be regarded as an insult to multi-talented Barry Geraghty to call him a mere passenger.

Geraghty had suffered agonies aboard Moscow Flyer on Tuesday, but there was never the remotest possibility of another disappointment.

Front-running First Gold had enough going to four out and Kingcliff took over. Kicking King was soon in his slipstream, absolutely cantering.

At Cheltenham, Geraghty, so well was his partner travelling, made his move three from home. This time an inch of rein was let out at the fourth last.

Kicking King surged into the lead in a way only a very high-class National Hunt horse can. Rule Supreme, patiently ridden by Ruby Walsh, tried to go with him.

But he was facing insurmountable odds. Geraghty hardly moved a muscle and the only moment of worry came at the last.

Kicking King was a bit long, but flew across the fence and then cruised home hard-held by an unflattering three lengths.

“I was more nervous today than for any other race this season”, said Taaffe. “I just wanted him to get round and then out on grass.

“He did exactly what you would expect a progressive Cheltenham Gold Cup winner to do. He has given us so much, it will be lovely to see him have a summer’s break”.

“He has become so professional, mentally and physically. He’s a real athlete, laid-back and clean-winded. He came here with just two and a half pieces of work done.”

Commented Geraghty: “He made my job so easy, he travelled so well. It took them four years to get to Moscow and, hopefully, it will take longer to get to this lad.”

Cashmans make Kicking King 3-1 favourite for next year’s Gold Cup, Paddy Power go 5-2 and Ladbrokes even more conservative at 2-1. And, of course, Taaffe, will gear everything towards Kicking King retaining his crown.

“He will again start off at Gowran Park in October, as long as the ground is suitable”, confirmed Taaffe.

“We will see after that. There are a few carrots being dangled at the moment, so we will see what’s announced in the next few weeks.”

Quizzed if he was looking forward to taking on Best Mate, Taaffe responded: “I don’t say this cockily, but I am looking foward to taking on all horses with Kicking King.”

Willie Mullins indicated he would look at Rule Supreme this morning and then make up his mind whether he will turn out again today in the Ballymore Properties Stayers’ Hurdle.

That smashing daughter of Supreme Leader, Blazing Liss, may be heading for retirement following her victory in the Bewleys’ Hotels Stallion Farms EBF Mares Hurdle.

Explained trainer, John Kiely: “She has been covered by Flemensfirth and, hopefully, is in foal. If she is then she will probably be retired, if not we will have to think of another plan.”

Blazing Liss was a strong order in the market and coasted through to lead for Davy Russell jumping the third last.

She jumped the next perfectly well, but stumbled badly at the back of the flight. “The ground is churned up there and she stepped into it”, reported Russell.

He didn’t panic, giving her time to get back on an even keel. Blazing Liss did the rest, soon picking up again and forging away on the run to the last.

Jonjo O’Neill’s Refinement finally delivered in the Grade One Paddy Power Champion Bumper, producing a scintillating performance.

She led with over three furlongs to run and exploded up the straight to beat another English challenger, Nigel Twiston-Davies’ The Cool Guy, by nine lengths.

“She’s a good little mare, but a bit of a lady and the blinds helped”, said O’Neill.

“She has spent two years in bumpers and will now go over hurdles.”

Alan Berry (21) had the ride and this was his first success in his home country. He is a son of Frank Berry, J P McManus’s racing manager, and brother of top flat jockey, Fran.

Heavily-backed Cheltenham hero, Missed That, proved disappointing. He travelled sweetly through the contest, but found little for pressure when asked to go in pursuit of the winner.

Ruby Walsh, enjoying his first success of the Festival, gave a masterly display aboard Willie Mullins’ Livingstonebramble in the appropriately named Masterchef’s Hospitality Novice Chase.

He switched the nine-year-old to the far side of Bizet, in front three from home, before the final fence and then flashed him past on the run in for a hard-earned half a length win.

“That was a fantastic bit of tactical riding by Ruby”, remarked Mullins. “This horse should make a nice handicapper for next season.”

Bookmakers, badly in need of some respite, began their day in style when Strides Of Fire took the opening Aon Group-Sean Barrett Bloodstock Insurances Hurdle.

He was returned at 20-1, but paid just under 108-1 on the Tote. He had disappointed more often than not, but made no mistake here, after Robbie Moran powered him clear early in the straight.

He is trained in Wexford by John Codd, who rode Ogan Spa to score over the banks at Punchestown back in 1986.

Strides Of Fire is owned by the seven-member Make Six Syndicate, five of whom come from Waterford and the others from Tyrone and Killarney.

Jessica Harrington’s rather disastrous couple of days continued in the Blue Square 1800 905050 Handicap Hurdle.

Her I’ll Call You Back was some three lengths clear, and certain to win, when taking a crashing fall at the last.

That left it between Stutter and Native Stag and the former quickened clear in the last hundred yards.

General Montcalm, carrying the colours of Douglas, Co Cork Owner, Flor O’Mahony, stayed on doggedly to beat Industrious a neck in the Cox’s Cash and Carry Champion Hunters Chase. O’Mahony, however, missed the race as he is currently in New York.

Barry Geraghty added to his gains on Kicking King when driving Jasmin D’Oudairies, initiating a double for Willie Mullins, clear from the final fence to beat Kymandjen in the S M Morris Ltd Handicap Chase.

The attendance yesterday was 20,162, up 1,403 on last year. Bookmakers held €2,857,292, the Tote €1,165,774, both course records.

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