Ruby Walsh was once again the man to follow at Leopardstown as Ireland’s top jockey claimed two Grade Ones and a treble on the day.
His principal achievement came with a first career victory in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup thanks to the Paul Nicholls-trained Neptune Collonges.
Third behind stablemates Denman and Kauto Star in last year’s totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, this was the grey’s third top-level Irish score.
His only previous start this season had been at the Dublin course over Christmas when he fell at the penultimate fence of the Lexus Chase.
But there were to be no such mistakes this time around and the 8-13 favourite’s only danger came from the persistent Notre Pere, who made him work for his five-length verdict.
“It took the horse a week to regain his confidence after his fall here the last day,” said Nicholls.
“It’s come together well and he will improve for the run so we’re very happy with him. I’m really looking forward to the Gold Cup now.”
Walsh teamed up with Willie Mullins as Cooldine (9-4 joint-favourite) bravely disposed of Forpadydeplasterer in the Dr PJ Moriarty Novice Chase.
Eleven years ago the great Florida Pearl won for his owner Violet O’Leary and Mullins before following up in the RSA Chase and the trainer said: “He stayed every inch of the trip and the RSA Chase looks the obvious race. It’s been a lucky race for me.”
Walsh later helped Paul Nolan’s Savitha (4-1) to run out a comfortable winner of the Irish Stallion Farms EBF (Mares) Handicap Hurdle with Nolan himself doubling up through See U Bob (12-1) in the Leopardstown.com Handicap Hurdle.
Mullins was out of luck in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle when Cousin Vinny (4-6 favourite) unseated the trainer’s son Patrick at the last flight with the race seemingly in the bag, allowing Pandorama (6-4) to come home 10 lengths clear.
The trainer explained: “The horse half knuckled and slipped on landing. Patrick set him alight but he’d never jumped a hurdle that fast in his life.”
Pandorama’s handler Noel Meade added: “I feel very sorry for Willie but you need a bit of luck. He is going to go chasing and I don’t want to sicken him with too many hard races this season.
“The original plan was the Ballymore but I’m thinking more in terms of the three-miler now.”
The Mullins team were back again in the Frank Ward & Co. Solicitors Flat Race as Sicilian Secret (4-11 favourite) justified serious market confidence.
An exciting finish to the Grade Two Spring Juvenile Hurdle saw Edward O’Grady’s Jumbo Rio (11-4) get the better of the gritty Ebadiyan (13-8 favourite) despite a mistake at the second-last.
Agus A Vic (11-4) is likely to bypass Cheltenham despite regaining the Raymond Smith Memorial Hunters Chase.