He may be more used to the delights of Royal Ascot but trainer Dermot Weld has always enjoyed the challenge of Cheltenham and despite only training a handful of hurdlers – and all of those double up on the Flat – the man who has broken boundaries worldwide is proving a dab hand at getting one right for March.
His Windsor Park emerged as a possible Ascot Gold Cup contender after striking in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Sent off at 9-2 having run well behind the favourite Nichols Canyon last time out on ground softer than ideal, Davy Russell was exemplary in the saddle, sitting just off a slow early pace before taking the box seat coming down the hill.
His Flat speed then put the race to bed approaching the last, sprinting clear for an impressive three-and-three-quarter-length success from John Ferguson’s Parlour Games under AP McCoy, with Nichols Canyon a rare reverse for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh.
The talk for the winner afterwards was of a possible raid on the Royal meeting in the summer.
Weld said: “It’s very enjoyable. I’ve only a few jumpers nowadays. He’s a dual-purpose horse and you’ll see him on the Flat as well.
“I thought he’d be very hard to beat. I had a lot of confidence in my own horse. He’s done everything right and he’s enjoyed the trip. This was lovely ground for him.
“He could be entered for a Gold Cup (at Royal Ascot).
“He’s a versatile horse. He’s done everything right and is a joy to train — he’s a stayer with speed.
“He could be entered at Ascot, but today was the day. Coming here I thought he would be hard to beat, because he is a good ground horse and has been running well in deep winter ground. He’s a very nice young horse and had a lovely prep for this.
“We will see where we go next, he’ll never want extremes of ground and while today was the day, Punchestown would seem the logical progression.
“I don’t have many jumpers, just six at the moment, and they are all dual-purpose horses. We had a winner here last year, too (Silver Concorde).”
Russell said: “All credit to Dermot Weld and his team – he’s a master. He (Weld) told me that jumping is his hobby. It’s some hobby, isn’t it?
“He jumped every hurdle really well and I never had any issue with stamina.”
Winning owner Dr Ronan Lambe said: “Davy gave him an absolutely wonderful ride.”
Of a possible Ascot bid, Lambe, enjoying a terrific spell at the Festival with horses in his colours and who has defending champion Lord Windermere to look forward to in the Gold Cup on Friday, said: “Let’s not carried away at this stage. One never knows.”
Graham Wylie, owner of Nichols Canyon, said: “The horse didn’t settle and by the time they got to the end he was flat to the boards.
“I am delighted with the run as it showed he handled the good ground and now means we can run him on both soft and good ground.
“It was a good race to watch, he just needs to learn to settle.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved