Philip Fenton produced a terrific training performance to land the Hennessy Gold Cup with Last Instalment at Leopardstown yesterday.
Some two years ago, Last Instalment was probably the most promising young chaser in the country, but two injuries saw him on the easy list for 23 months.
He returned to action when third at Thurles in January and built on that here with a stunning display.
“It looks as if he is as good as ever”, said the quietly spoken Fenton, who was more than entitled to feel utterly satisfied with his work.
Fenton has nursed the nine-year-old back to full fitness and, if given the green light, will head to the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March as easily Ireland’s leading hope.
The much underrated Brian O’Connell was in the plate, after Gigginstown House Stud’s number one rider, Bryan Cooper, went with one of their other runners, First Lieutenant.
But First Lieutenant has long been something of a nearly horse and he finished a well-beaten third, after Last Instalment had galloped and jumped his rivals silly.
The third Gigginstown candidate, Roi Du Mee, set off in front, but Last Instalment was keen and O’Connell, bravely, grabbed the initiative and allowed his charge to stride on over the second.
What developed subsequently was a master class by O’Connell, as he set all of the fractions to very much suit himself.
He certainly didn’t make it a true test of stamina and that was completely against the veteran, Tidal Bay.
Paul Nicholls’ charge was far closer to the pace than might have been expected and was chopped for speed when the pace quickened.
O’Connell utilised Last Instalment’s immaculate jumping quite beautifully and his timing of when to go for broke was spot-on, as he kicked coming away from two out.
In a matter of strides he has his rivals stone cold. Last Instalment flew the last and bounded clear on the flat to beat the running-on again Tidal Bay by eight and a half lengths, with First Lieutenant in third.
Said Fenton: “It wasn’t the plan to make it, but he was free and his jumping carried him there. Brian gave him a great ride.
“If he is sound in the morning, he will then have an easy ten days. It would, of course, worry me if the ground were good at Cheltenham, given his problems. I would be happy to see the rain falling.
“Both times he got injured it was hard, it has been a long road back. It just doesn’t get better than this, the Gold Cup has to be the plan now.
“It is great to have him back and he confirmed all of his novice form. He has broken down twice, the first time was here and then again last season.
“He’s nine, but has little mileage and, hopefully, there’s a pinch if improvement to come. His jumping was electric and he even gained ground when getting in close to fences.”
For O’Connell it was a sixth Grade 1 win, this was his biggest success, and his record aboard Last Instalment is one hundred per cent, four from four.
Said O’Connell: “That was unbelievable training on the part of Philip. He has had him since he was a four-year-old, he gave him time, it’s so frustrating when you have good horses on the sidelines.
“This is massive, these are the days that count. It was only his second run back and I was cautious of the bounce factor, but you can’t beat class. If he is in the same form at Cheltenham, he will run a big race.”
Gigginstown supremo, Michael O’Leary, was realistic regarding Cheltenham. Said O’Leary: “I’m not sure we would run him on very good ground. He has two glass legs and it all depends on how he is in the morning.
“That was a great bit of training, we didn’t expect him to win. It’s wonderful for Brian O’Connell, great for Philip and shows what an underrated trainer he is. When he gets the ammunition he can do it.”
Paddy Power make Last instalment an 8-1 shot for the Gold Cup, from 25-1, while it was 8-1, from 33’s, with Boylesports.
Ladbrokes, however, were more realistic and they offered 14-1 from 33-1. RaceBets had been going 50-1, but they cut him to 10-1.
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