Nicholls over the moon with Neptune success

Neptune Collonges, the youngest horse in the race, capped an extraordinary campaign for Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh when outstaying his rivals to take the Guinness Gold Cup at Punchestown yesterday.

The grey was only the third horse Nicholls has ever brought to this Festival and the other two (Le Roi Miguel and Sporazene) won as well.

“It was always the plan to come as long as the ground was safe”, reported Nicholls.

“We kept him fresh after Cheltenham (eighth in Gold Cup) and he was really fit.”

In truth, the winner and Kingscliff, finally showing some sparkle, dominated throughout. Kingscliff tried to make all, with the winner content to stalk him.

Walsh made his move heading to the fourth last and Neptune Collonges landed in front here. He was kept right up to his work from that point, crossing the line three and a half lengths clear of Kingscliff with In Compliance and Racing Demon disappointing in third and fourth places respectively.

“I’m thrilled, he’s only six and a decent horse”, said Nicholls.

“As he gets older he seems to like this ground more and more.

“He ran okay in the Gold Cup, but I’m not so sure Cheltenham suits him. I told Ruby to keep firing him, to make the others go.

“It’s nice to come here. I would like to bring more horses, but it doesn’t always fit in.”

Boylseports gave Neptune Collonges a 25-1 quote for next year’s Gold Cup, Paddy Power only go 20’s, but Cashmans are a more realistic 33-1.

As good and all as this display was, it has to be taken in context and there’s no doubt Neptune Collonges is not rated in the same league as stable companion, Kauto Star.

For Walsh it was a third win in the race to go with Imperial Call in 1999 and Commanche Court the following year.

Said Walsh: “It is great to win, we’ve had a bit of success in Ireland, but Paul doesn’t bring too many horses here.

“He travelled and jumped great. Kingscliff carried us along at a good pace and I had it in my head to go at the last ditch.

“When he jumped that great, I kicked on. I was surprised nothing came to us.”

Owner, John Hales, said: “Ruby was great, he’s such a tremendous tactician and was in the right place all the time.

“It is my first runner in Ireland, but won’t be my last, we’ll be back here next year. The hospitality has been great and I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Trainer, Robert Alner, said of Kingscliff: “I just wanted him to run his race. He loves being up there, he stayed on and it is great to have him back. All credit to Robert Walford, who rode him so well.”

In Compliance went off a strong favourite, having been thumped in from 2-1 to 6-4. He moved sweetly for most of the contest, but found little when let down by Barry Geraghty.

Perhaps, he needed the run, even badly, but has failed to deliver too often now for comfort.

In Compliance’s trainer, Michael O’Brien, said: “He just wanted the run. It has been well publicised that we have had a lot of trouble with him. Our horses are just starting to run alright, but he was the worst affected.

“At least he proved he stays three miles. If we had another two weeks it would have helped, but we’re happy enough.”

Racing Demon has become totally unreliable. Paddock watchers reported that he appeared on less than good terms with himself.

He was no better on the track, racing with little or no enthusiasm and never, at any stage, holding out any hope for supporters.

Henrietta Knight, however, saw things a mite differently. “We were pretty happy with him”, she said.

“He stayed on and jumped well, but ran a little flat, but that’s probably because it is the end of a long season. He got very wound up in the parade, but I’m not using that as an excuse.”

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