At Leopardstown yesterday he gave Tidal Bay the most extraordinary of drives to land a thrilling Lexus Chase.
One of the more kind words to describe Tidal Bay in the past was ’enigmatic’, but he has greatly benefited from being moved to the Paul Nicholls yard and having, arguably, the greatest National Hunt jockey of all time in the plate.
Walsh hunted him round at the back, as Midnight Chase and Hidden Cyclone carried the field along.
Turning for home Flemenstar, partnered with more restraint than usual by Andrew Lynch, coasted into the lead, looking all over a winner.
At this stage Walsh was rowing away in fifth on Tidal Bay. Flemenstar was still nicely in charge jumping the last, but began to feel the pinch at the back of the fence.
First Lieutenant threw down a determined challenge, but then Walsh switched Tidal Bay between the pair and the veteran swept through to beat First Lieutenant by a head, with Flemenstar a further half a length away in third and Sir Des Champs just another short head behind in fourth.
Nicholls said of Tidal Bay: “He was quirky for a reason, but we have found out how to train him. He has a devastating turn of foot.
“I would love to have had him when he was a younger horse, but am delighted to have him now. He doesn’t know how old he is and, if he was eight, would be favourite for the Gold Cup! He will probably have to go for the Gold after that, but wouldn’t want good ground. The alternative is the Stayers’ Hurdle.
“We had the right man on board, tactically there is no one better than him. The horse is in serious order and I never saw him looking better than he did today.’
Walsh said: “He’s a wonderful horse, has been called every name under the sun and they are all wrong. I got a split between First Lieutenant and Flemenstar, he shot into it and won.”
Walsh, however, said he was not in favour of a tilt at the God Cup, favouring the Stayers’ Hurdle.
In a handful of days, Tidal Bay will be a 12-year-old and one could be forgiven for thinking the fact he was able to beat the best we had to offer means Ireland can forget about winning the Gold Cup come March.
We can be certain, however, that it is nowhere near as simple as that. First Lieutenant ran a cracker, is a relatively young horse with a big future, who has shown a major liking for Cheltenham in the past. He now goes straight for the Gold Cup.
You could make a case Flemenstar hit the front a trifle soon, but that would be churlish. Peter Casey indicated he would come back to Leopardstown for the Hennessy. That will tell us even more, but the evidence really is three and a quarter miles at Cheltenham will be too far.
And what of Sir Des Champs? He made a couple of mistakes on the far side and they clearly dragged him out of his comfort zone.
He did remarkably well to finish so close and should not be in any way discounted. He, too, will return to Leopardstown for the Hennessy.
Tidal Bay was completing a massive Grade 1 double for owners Andrea and Graham Wylie, whose Back In Focus had earlier landed the Topaz Novice Chase.
Willie Mullins dominated this contest, with Back In Focus getting up close home to beat stable companion Aupcharlie.
The latter came from behind and was absolutely tanking off the home turn for Andrew Lynch.
He edged ahead going to the last and seemed to have the contest safely tucked away. But then he stumbled at the back of the obstacle and the world suddenly changed.
He was still two or three lengths to the good, but Back In Focus surged through to lead close home.
“Not for a minute did I think he would get back up,” declared Mullins. “He needs every inch of three miles and softer ground.
“That was a great run by Aupcharlie - he’s an exciting prospect.
“Back In Focus has RSA Chase (Cheltenham) written all over him. I’d say the Jewson would be Aupcharlie’s race at Cheltenham.” Walsh was suspended for one day for misuse of the whip.
Noel Meade’s Monksland reversed Fairyhouse running with Zaidpour, outstaying him to land the Grade 2 wooodies.com Christmas Hurdle.
The front-running Whatuthink looked as if he might have stolen the race, but Zaidpour finally closed him down to the lead at the last.
Zaidpour, however, had little left and Monksland swept past half way up the run-in to win going away.
“That was a super ride,” exclaimed Meade. “Paul (Carberry) said he wasn’t travelling on the far side, left him alone and that’s why he came home best of all.
“He will have an entry for the Stayers’ Hurdle.”
The Madigans’ Maiden Hurdle was an eventful contest. Ted Walsh’s winning point-to-pointer, Foxrock, went off a short-priced favourite, but was cannoned into at the first flight and unseated Ruby Walsh.
Then the well-fancied Mala Beach tried his case up the inside heading to the home turn and was driven through the rails by a loose horse.
In the end, victory went to Arthur Moore’s very promising Talbot Road, who battled on dourly for Barry Cash to overpower Thunder And Roses from the final flight.
Said Moore: “He was only four in June and is a horse I have liked from day one. I have no plans and we won’t do much with him this season, but he is our big hope.”
Willie Mullins’ Supreme Carolina took the Christmas Rated Hurdle.
This was another inspired drive by Ruby Walsh, who had no fewer than eight horses in front of him early in the straight. But Supreme Carolina gradually got there and finished powerfully towards the stands’ side to mug Persian Gayle.