Following a busy campaign, including trips to Cheltenham and Aintree, and doubts about his stamina for the 25-furlong trip, Don Cossack faced quite a task taking on Gold Cup second and third Djakadam and Road To Riches.
Ensuring a true test of stamina, Road To Riches was sent to the front early and held that position until passed by Djakadam as they jumped the sixth. The early leader regained the lead a couple of fences later and, as the field turned for home, the main protagonists were at the head of affairs, poised for a battle royal.
The three jumped the second last almost in unison, but long-time leader Road To Riches was first to back out, as his rivals’ strode on. Under a typically patient ride from Paul Carberry, Don Cossack forged ahead on the approach to the final obstacle, and pulled clear in the style of an animal with little fear from what another furlong and a half might hold 10 months down the line, at Cheltenham.
“It’s one of the proudest days I’ve had training horses so far,” said Elliott. “I feel very sorry for Bryan (Cooper), he had to go with the other horse after being third in the Gold Cup, but I’m delighted for Paul Carberry. He’s been associated with me for a long time, and it’s great to give him a Grade 1.
“We were nervous about running the horse, but it’s a Gold Cup and so we said we’d take our chance. I’ll be safe in my job for another year. They didn’t hang around from the start, and he proved he stays. From the last to the line he put seven lengths between them.”
In victory, Don Cossack interrupted Willie Mullins’ dominance of the Grade 1 races at the meeting, after Killultagh Vic had brought the tally to four in two days for the Closutton handler with victory in the Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle.
Binge Drinker and Fletchers Flyer ensured a strong tempo, and when the race entered the business end the first of the leading fancies to crack was No More Heroes, whose Cheltenham exertions may have left their mark.
Favourite Shaneshill travelled into the race stylishly, looking the likely winner as they turned for home, but stable companion Killultagh Vic ranged upsides soon afterwards and, under a confident Paul Townend, quickened clear. Fellow 8-1 chance Thistlecrack posed a late threat, but Killultagh Vic held on by half a length.
Winning a Grade 1 at the meeting with a second-string representative for the third time, Mullins commented: “We’re lucky we have good reserves in both the riding stakes and the horses. Paul was fantastic on that fella. He just kept him asleep, and used Ruby as a lead horse. When I said that to him, he said ‘yeah, if we can get him to do that a bit more often I’ll be happy’.
“We had our plan to go chasing with Killultagh Vic but, after that performance, we might keep an eye on the Stayers’ Hurdle.”
Of the disappointing favourite, he added: “I don’t know whether he didn’t stay or not, or whether he was feeling the effects of his run at Cheltenham. It looked like he came to win his race, and just stopped. Maybe he didn’t stay, or maybe he was beaten by two better horses, but something might come out in the wash.”
Mullins later completed a double when Bellshill, under son Patrick, kicked clear off the last bend to beat favourite Disko in the Champion Bumper.
The opener, a handicap hurdle over two and a half miles, was the final of the Martinstown Opportunity Series and jockey Andrew Ring gave the Stephen Nolan-trained 33-1 chance Shamiran a fine ride to win the race for the second time, three years after doing so in testing conditions.
Walk To Freedom, ridden by Robbie Power for trainer Jessica Harrington, continued the poor start to the day for punters when landing the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel Hurdle at odds of 50-1.
Said the surprised winning handler: “He’s done everything this season: he’s run away, gone out through railings, thrown the jockey in the parade ring. We’ve always thought a lot about him, but he’s just so wayward.”
The Galway Plate could be on the agenda for Ballyadam Approach, who ran out a convincing winner of the Guinness Handicap Chase for Terence O’Brien and rider David Splaine.
Said Carrigtwohill handler O’Brien: “For a horse that broke down three times, and had two wind operations, that was good, but credit must go to his owner, Billy Horgan – no-one else would have had the patience he’s had.
“The horse wasn’t running well before, because he wouldn’t let himself down, but we gave him time and the rest is down to himself. The Galway Plate is a possible target but I’d be tempted to put him away because he’s won two nice pots, and I wouldn’t risk him on fast ground.”
The concluding bumper went for export as the David Pipe-trained Champers On Ice justified favouritism edging out Final Figaro under strong persuasion from Jamie Codd.