Though somewhat hidden in the shadows of the two behemoths of Irish national hunt racing, namely Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott, trainer Henry De Bromhead is enjoying a superb season, and it took another leap forward when the Waterford handler emulated his father by landing the Goffs Thyestes Chase, with Champagne West, yesterday afternoon at a bitterly cold but well-attended Gowran Park.
Having been touched off in a valuable handicap chase with Stellar Notion, last Sunday at Leopardstown, this was ample compensation for the winning connections, including owner Roger Brookhouse.
The winner, formerly trained in Britain by Philip Hobbs, set out to make all and, despite making a shuddering mistake five out, coasted clear up the straight to see off the challenge of Ucello Conti.
A horse whose career to date over fences has been plagued by indifferent jumping, he is the latest example of De Bromhead’s Midas touch with such horses, though the winning trainer was quick to deflect all praise to the ride given by David Mullins.
“David gave him a super ride. He just sat so quietly on him, which we hoped was the key to him and, bar the fifth-last, I thought he jumped really well.
“We’ve done a fair bit of work with him, but it’s there (his ability to jump) – it’s just as much about confidence. I think it’s about trying not to get too involved with him – leaving him do it. He likes to gallop and jump and all credit to David, as he’s not an easy ride.”
Twenty-five years ago, De Bromhead’s father, Harry, won the race with Grand Habit, a race Henry remembers well: “My father won it with Grand Habit, so I’m delighted to win it now for the first time - it’s one that he can’t say he got and I didn’t!
“He had a double that day, as Bishop’s Hall also won. I was in Dublin at the time and did a pound each-way double. I think I was seen in every pub in Dublin over the next week.”
Of his own form this season, he added: “It’s been incredible. I have amazing support, fantastic owners, and a great team behind me. I’m very lucky things are going the way they are.”
Champagne West has numerous options over the coming months, not least the Cheltenham Gold Cup (40-1), Ryanair Chase (20-1) and the Aintree Grand National (33-1).
The victory was the second leg of a 43-1 double for De Bromhead and Mullins, after Adreamstillalive made all to readily follow up her recent maiden hurdle success by taking the Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle. In the words of her trainer, she ‘did everything in her power to get rid of David on her way to the start’, but the 9-2 favourite was much more straight-forward in the race.
Willie Mullins dominated the undercard, recording a 16-1 four-timer, highlighted by Shaneshill’s victory, under Paul Townend, in the Grade 2 John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle.
Left in front by the early departure of Milsean, the 9-4 chance’s game victory made little impact on the Stayers’ Hurdle market, as he remains a 12-1 chance, and beaten favourite and stable-companion Clondaw Warrior drifted to 16-1.
Said Mullins: “It’s funny, because Paul thought the nicer ground suited him, and Ruby thought the ground was too soft for Clondaw Warrior, so I don’t know what to make of it. The winner is improving, and he jumped fantastically. He got a good lead early in the race and the pace was strong, which is what he wants. I’d imagine that (the Stayers Hurdle) would be his owners’ preferred option.”
Of Clondaw Warrior, he added: “I’m disappointed with him. I think he’s better than that, and better ground will suit him. Looking at Clondaw’s legs, he had muck right up to his fetlocks. I’d say he was digging into it, and it wasn’t suiting him. I think he’ll improve from that. Even though he’s had all those runs, he looks big. He’s a horse that does himself very well, he eats like a horse, and he looks it.”
Mullins four winners came with four different jockeys, and Barry Geraghty was the man in the plate when Bon Papa justified strong support at short odds in the Langton House Hotel Maiden Hurdle.
Having fallen at the third-last with a three-mile maiden seemingly at his mercy, the 1-5 chance made amends with a fluent success. The imposing gelding travelled well, close to the pace, and readily put the race to bed, when given the office to do so.
Lest we were to get carried away with the performance, Geraghty was quick to temper rising expectation: “He didn’t have much to beat, and you could say the same for his bumper. I don’t mean to talk him down, but he hasn’t had to do anything special yet.
“He did it well, obviously, but he is unproven. He’s a nice sort, but he’s more of a horse for next year. You couldn’t say he’s that professional – he’s good, but he has plenty to learn.”
Of the decision to run him over three miles last time, he added: “Willie just thought it was an easy opportunity for him, and sure it was, but he just got stuck in the mud at the back of the third-last. I’d say he found an easy opportunity again today. I don’t think it was the strongest maiden, and the proof is in the form.”
The winning trainer was far less reserved, reporting himself delighted with the horse’s progress, and suggesting a trip to Cheltenham, for the Neptune, could be on the cards.
“Bon Papa is improving all the time, and I was very, very pleased with him,” reported Mullins. “He’s one that I hadn’t on the travelling list (for Cheltenham) early in the season but he is now.
“First of all, I didn’t think he’d win a bumper, and then his homework said to us that he was going to win a bumper - and win it well. He could probably have won a winners’ if we had stayed that way, but we decided to go jumping, and he’s improving with every run. He’s more a chaser than a hurdler, but the amount of improvement he’s done from last year to this year is phenomenal.”
Jody McGarvey was the man on top when Great Field made all and survived some hairy leaps along the way to landing a gamble in the PMF Accountants Beginners’ Chase. Mullins’ gelding, which was pulled up when sent off 7-1 joint-favourite for the County Hurdle on his previous start, was available at 6-1 in the morning, 9-2 on track, but returned 3-1.
“It was a good performance, and he’ll get better, I hope,” said Mullins. “He has a fair engine and will appreciate better ground, but I’ll keep him at that trip, form the moment, anyway.”
Mullins completed his four-timer when Getabird, ridden by Patrick Mullins, made all to justify odds of 1-10 in the bumper. Wexford trainer Richie Rath and jockey JJ Slevin combined to take the Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Hurdle with 20-1 chance Notwhatiam.
I think it’s about trying not to get too involved with him – leaving him do it. He likes to gallop and jump