Ruby Walsh staged an extraordinary performance on Killultagh Vic to win the Grade 2 Money Back On Fallers Novice Chase at Leopardstoewn yesterday.
The 2/7 favourite made the running under Ruby Walsh, jumping superbly and was in command when over-jumping at the final fence, stumbling and coming to a virtual standstill.
Walsh did well to stay on board, but lost his right iron as both Blair Perrone and Lord Scoundrel passed him early on the run-in. But Walsh got his mount back on an even keel and rallied him to chase his two rivals. And, remarkably, the seven-year-old picked up to regain the lead and win, cosily, by three-quarters of a length from Blair Perrone.
Winning trainer Willie Mullins described the incident as “extraordinary, by both horse and rider.”
He stated: “Ruby did very well to stay on him and a lot of guys would have pulled him up. It was extraordinary – I thought he was gone, but he recovered, got back into it and managed to win – it was a huge performance.”
Outlining Cheltenham plans for his charge, Mullins added: “We know he stays, but the way he jumps means he can come back in trip. He’ll get an entry in all of the novice races, but the JLT is his most likely target.”
The Charles O’Brien-trained Henry Higgins coasted to a smooth success over Kalkir in the inaugural running of the €100,000 Coral.ie Handicap Hurdle.
The 16/1 shot travelled strongly under Robbie Power, got a clear run through on the inside from the second last and, produced to lead at the last flight, forged clear to triumph by two and a quarter lengths, giving winning rider Robbie Power the second leg of a double and his second success in this event (under different sponsors), having won on Citizenship in 2012.
Henry Higgins, one of eight runners in the race carrying the colours of JP McManus, also provided his owner with a second win in the race – Gilgamboa won for him two years ago.
“I always felt he had a big day in him. I knew he was in good form and we took a chance, deciding to drop him in, because two miles is as far as he wants to go on that ground,” explained winning trainer O’Brien. ”He’d definitely appreciate better ground. He was a decent flat horse and is a fantastic jumper. But Robbie gave him a lovely ride – he got the splits and got a dream run up the rail.”
When quizzed about plans for the six-year-old O’Brien said: “I’ll have to talk to Frank (Berry). But I suppose the County Hurdle (commemorates O’Brien’s legendary father Vincent) would be the appropriate race to go for.”
The other twin feature, the Coral.ie Leopardstown Handicap Chase went to Empire Of Dirt trained for Gigginstown House Stud by Colm Murphy and a twentieth winner for 7lb. claimer Jonathan Moore, whose claim is now reduced to 5lb.
Empire Of Dirt got the better of another Gigginstown-owned challenger Killer Crow (Bryan Cooper) by two and a quarter lengths. A delighted Murphy admitted: “We don’t have the fire-power we used to have. So it’s great to win a big pot like this.”
And he added: “I would have been disappointed if he didn’t run well. He has been unlucky and just can’t go right-handed.
“Johnny spent a couple of years with us and knew the horse well. He gave him a fantastic ride.”
Murphy is now likely to consider handicap options at Cheltenham and Aintree for Empire Of Dirt.
In the supporting action, big-race hero Robbie Power initiated a double when hurdling debutant Our Duke overturned Pylonthepressure, representing the Mullins/Walsh combination, in the two and a half mile maiden hurdle.
The winner is trained by Jessica Harrington, who said: “The other horse was slicker and our fellow jumped slow.
“But, when Robbie got him stoked up, he kept going well. He has an entry in the Deloitte, but I’m not sure what we’ll do with him next.”
Power and Harrington had earlier lost out, by a nose, when even-money favourite Billy’s Hope was chinned on the line by John Kiely’s Pride Of The Braid (Davy Russell) in the mares maiden hurdle.
J P McManus registered his second win of the day when the Aidan O’Brien-trained Aspen Colorado made a successful debut under Sarah O’Brien in the four-year-old bumper.
The Galileo gelding won emphatically, causing Paddy Power to install him as 10.1 favourite for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.
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