Both camps were upbeat about prospects for the coming months in the wake of a tactical, three-runner affair, which saw Andrew Lynch dictate the pace on Flemenstar, before upping the tempo from the third last and staying on to score by five lengths, with Rubi Light left trailing.
Flemenstar, lobbing along in front jumped impeccably and never looked in danger as Davy Russell, on Sir Des Champs, got lower in the saddle to urge his mount along approaching the third last.
And, when they turned for home with two to jump, even-money favourite Flemenstar was in command and romped home to the delight of his legion of fans in the Punchestown stands.
In typical, forthright style winning trainer Peter Casey declared: “I’m delighted with him, because he’s still not ready. He’ll go to Leopardstown at Christmas, unless it comes too soon for him.
“He’s a more relaxed horse this year, a different animal. He’s like an old horse. I’ve never had any doubt about him staying three miles. The Gold Cup is the still the long-term plan.”
Casey added: “We’ll have to see about Christmas. The Lexus (three miles) is a hard old race and there’s a two-mile, one furlong race there that we could supplement him for. I don’t know — it all depends on the owner.”
Flemenstar’s owner Stephen Curran soon dismissed any suggestion of the seven-year-old dropping back in trip. “He’s stepping-up to three miles and the Lexus is the race for him.”
Willie Mullins was philosophical about the outcome, commenting: “Our horse ran a good solid race, although I would rather have won. There’s a lot to look forward to. Flemenstar took the race by the scruff of the neck and got his reward.”
He added: “I’ll have a chat with owners about Christmas. He’s in the Lexus, the King George and the Dial-A-Bet Chase (Leopardstown). Rnning in the shorter race would give him experience of jumping going a good clip. We’ll wait and see.”
But those who turned up yesterday (a crowd of 3,150) to savour the clash of Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs will be hoping for a rematch, over three miles, in the Lexus on December 28.
Paddy Power cut Flemenstar to 6/1 (from 8) for the Gold Cup while Stan James make him a 5/1 shot (also from 8).
Willie Mullins completed a treble on the supporting card, with odds-on shots Pride ofthe Parish, Mikael D’Haguenet and Sizing Tennessee.
Pride of the Parish (1/3) initiated a first-and-last-race-double for record-chasing Patrick Mullins, making all to record an emphatic 13 lengths win in the 2013 Annual Membership Maiden Hurdle.
“He’s a real chasing type and is particularly at home in heavy ground,” commented the winning trainer. “His owner (Archie O’Leary) is having his Christmas party in Mallow today, so we won at the wrong meeting!”
Mikael D’Haguenet, so unlucky over fences, stretching back to his last-fence fall in the Drinmore more than two years ago, belatedly got off the mark over the bigger obstacles when making all to brat Lord Windermere in the Blue Square Bet Beginners Chase.
Ridden by Paul Townend, who completed a double on Troytown third Glenquest in the Weatherbys Ireland Handicap Chase, the 8/13 favourite made all and jumped well — apart from the second last — to win by almost three lengths. Mullins explained: “He did things well and is getting his act together. I think we’ll climb the ladder slowly with him and go for a winners of one. We’ll try to win a few races with him and build his confidence rather than going for a Grade 1.”
The Mullins treble was completed when 4/6 favourite Sizing Tennessee outstayed market rival Redundant Man in the bumper, prompting Mullins to comment: “He’s a stayer in the making. He’ll go for a winners’ bumper and we’ll leave hurdling until next year,” before suggesting that he might consider a crack at the Cheltenham Bumper with the four-year-old Robin Des Champs gelding.
Henry de Bromhead, who completed a double with Days Hotel and Starkie in Cork, was also on the mark here with Too Scoops, which landed the listed INH Stallion Owners Novice Hurdle in good style under Andrew Lynch.
Too Scoops asserted after the second last to beat front-runner Rory O’Moore convincingly. A delighted de Bromhead said: “He jumped brilliant and stayed at it really well. The owners wanted to run here, so I listened. “He was meant to run in Galway and didn’t. I hope this makes up for it. He’s entered in the Grade 1 at Leopardstown, but I’m not sure where we’ll go with him.”
The Olver McKiernan-trained Happy New Year, enterprisingly ridden by Shane Crimin, completed a hat-trick when grinding out a convincing victory over Alasty in the Blue Square Bet Handicap Hurdle.
McKiernan commented: “This fellow seems to be improving all the time. That was a competitive handicap, they went a good gallop and he stuck at it well.”