Jointly owned by Clonakilty-based O’Leary and John D O’Donoghue, from Ballylickey, Bantry, Preists Leap was enjoying his first win since successful in this valuable contest a year earlier.
He hadn’t shown a great deal in the meantime and for his handler to have him in such shape for the day that mattered most was quite masterful.
“I was hoping more than anything else”, admitted O’Leary, after his charge had bolted home four lengths clear in the hands of Philip Enright, who was also in the plate twelve months earlier.
Sole English challenger Eric’s Charm set a spanking pace, considering the ground, and was always going to struggle to get home.
Facing up to three out the always prominent Chelsea Harbour and Conna Castle, who moved through the contest like a dream, ranged up as the principals.
Conna Castle didn’t seem to stay, however, as Chelsea Harbour moved on. But Enright had now worked Preists Leap quite beautifully into contention and the nine-year-old stormed ahead before the last and was soon in total control.
“That was super, he loves heavy ground”, said a delighted O’Leary. “This is a great race to win, I consider it one of the classics of Irish racing.
“The plan now is April 4 and the Grand National at Aintree. He will have one run prior to that, but I don’t know where.
“He was always going to come back here. John (owner) said he wanted to win this race three times and now we have done it twice.”
No horse has ever won the race on three occasions and Wylde Hide is the only other one to do it two years in-a-row, ’95-96.
Enright reported: “He jumped brilliantly and travelled even better than he did last year. Tom had him in great form, he was him spot-on for the day.”
Chelses Harbour ran a cracker to stay on for second, a remark which can be equally attributed to the third, Arbor Supreme.
Tony McCoy made the journey across to partner him and Arbor Supreme, up a whopping 29lbs for winning his previous two races, showed he will continue to be competitive.
Heavily-backed favourite Hoopy was the real failure of the race. He threatened momentarily to take a hand approaching the turn in, but was soon back-pedalling and was out of contention when pulled up by Barry Geraghty on the run in.
Course commentator, Des Scahill, described it as a red-letter day for O’Leary, after Hurricane Carter completed the trainer’s first ever double in the Irish Stallion Farms’ EBF Novice Chase, and that was the perfect summing up.
Hurricane Carter made just about all the running for Davy Russell, jumped superbly and was always carrying far too many guns for Tasman.
“He’s the same age as Preists Leap, was born in the same place and grew up in the same field”, revealed O’Leary.
“He’s had his problems, but is a beautiful horse and, I think, will go for the Thyestes next year. Davy was brilliant, he said he would probably make the running and was right.”
Earlier in the day Russell delivered a magical piece of riding to take the Grade 2 Alo Duffin Memorial Galmoy Hurdle on Paul Nolan’s Alpha Ridge.
He measured the fractions to perfection in this three mile grueller, making all the running and kicking at precisely the right time.
Shakervilz and Whatuthink tried to close him down from the home turn, but Shakervilz was gone once blundering at the second last.
Whatuthink was soon trying hard to close, finishing with a real flourish, but was still a length down at the line.
“I wasn’t happy with the horse at Navan the last day”, reported Nolan of Alpha Ridge. “We gave him a good break and brought him here nice and fresh. He will now go to Cheltenham for the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle.”
Cashmans reacted by shortening him from 40-1 to 14’s.
Jim Gorman’s Ready To Rocknroll, having made a promising debut over flights in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown, duly landed the Ballyhane Stud Maiden Hurdle, but had to pull out all the stops under a strong Paddy Flood drive.
Flood committed him going to three out and a big danger was removed when the challenging Aitchiface fell two from home.
The winner, though, was flat to the board in the final fifty yards to hold Moonlight Sapphire and the flying late rush of Art Sleuth.
“He made hard work of it”, said Gorman, with more than a hint of realism. “He will have an entry in the Triumph Hurdle, but didn’t impress me as a Triumph horse.
“I thought he would come on a lot more from Leopardstown and, maybe, we will stay at home with him.”
Henry de Bromhead enjoyed a welcome turn when An Cathaoir Mor and David Casey finished with a real flourish to grab the flattering Farringdon close home in the Kilkenny Handicap Hurdle.
“He deserved to win a race, we always thought he was decent”, said de Bromhead. “He takes a savage amount of work and is an out-and-out chaser in the making.”
Unlucky horse of the contest was market-leader Savitha, who was tanking on the heels of the leaders when getting it all wrong at the penultimate flight.
“I think he’s booked his ticket (Cheltenham bumper)”, smiled Willie Mullins, after he watched yet another of his seemingly endless supply of young horses take the Bumper.
Patrick Mullins only had to nudge out the son of Vertical Speed in the straight to score unextended by 15 lengths.
“He will go straight to Cheltenham”, said Mullins senior. “He has had little problems and was backward, but seems to have come right now.” Cashmans offered Cadspeed at 20-1 for Prestbury Park.
Arkmore Raider shot away heading to the final bend to easily land the Careys’ Cottage Cup Handicap Chase at 16-1 for Eddie Power.