We really ought to have known better. History has shown that underestimating Carlingford Lough and John Kiely is a foolish move but some lessons are harder absorbed than others.
Consequentially, Carlingford Lough was sent off at odds of 12/1 for yesterday’s Punchestown Gold Cup. Only Foxrock at 33/1 was a bigger price.
For much of the race the JP McManus-owned Carlingford Lough looked out of his depth. However, as was the case when equally unconsidered in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February he appeared, apparently from nowhere, to mount his challenge.
His finishing burst was decisive. A hideous fall from Road To Riches two out helped but at the line Carlingford Lough was a decisive and worthy winner, four and a half lengths clear of Djakadam with Don Poli back in third.
It was a race too far for 4/6 favourite Cue Card with the King George winner never looking comfortable before trailing in a tired fourth.
However, the day belonged to Carlingford Lough and his remarkable trainer.
The 79-year-old still rides out Carlingford Lough at his Dungarvan base and he admitted that the horse’s participation in yesterday’s race was not inevitable.
“Nobody seemed to think much about him, so we were even contemplating whether we should be here,” Kiely revealed. “It’s unbelievable and it was easier today because he wasn’t fancied. I’d have been delighted to have been placed. I didn’t expect to win.”
Carlingford Lough has given Kiely some of the greatest days of his racing life. Twice he has won the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown while he also took the Galway Plate in 2013.
That’s a mightily impressive CV but, Kiely said, yesterday’s win before a crowd of 18,181 tops the lot.
“I’ve been coming to Punchestown since 1948, when I was a child, and this is a never-again experience in my life,” he said. “But once is lovely. I ride the horse out practically every day and I was very happy with him. He was as well today as he had been for any other race.
“He has that bit of class and he stays really well. He’s the best I’ve trained and the best I will train. Today was undoubtedly the highlight with him.”
Carlingford Lough’s performance does, however, pose one big question: Why can’t he bring his Irish form to Cheltenham?
Last month he finished fourth, 22 lengths behind Don Cossack in the Gold Cup while in the 2015 renewal he finished ninth, 28 lengths in arrears of Coneygree. 2014 brought more disappointment as he finished sixth to O’Faolains Boy in the RSA Chase.
Kiely has his own theory.
“It was a good run in the Gold Cup this year, but I don’t think he loves Cheltenham - maybe being away, he might be a better horse in Ireland, and I think he likes a more level track.”
Winning jockey Barry Geraghty, only able to ride at the meeting after getting a 30-day ban overturned, was fulsome in his praise for both the trainer and the horse’s seemingly endless reserves of stamina.
He said: “What a trainer John Kiely is - he’s brilliant. He (Carlingford Lough) came from the clouds to win in Leopardstown, Mark (Walsh) gave him a brilliant ride.
“He couldn’t go the gallop in Cheltenham and he couldn’t go the gallop today, but it was just the way he finished out. It was just how long he could sustain that run, but he went all the way to the line.”
For Djakadam it was a familiar story, Willie Mullins’ charge having to settle for second just as he did at both Aintree and Cheltenham.
His resolution can’t be doubted but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion he lacks the star quality and turn of foot to win races of this calibre.
A lack of pace would also appear to be Don Poli’s Achilles heel and it’s hard to see either him or Djakadam ending Mullins’ long wait to land the Cheltenham Gold Cup next March.
For a few moments things looked grim for Road To Riches and it was the best sight of the day to see him get to feet having escaped with a superficial cut on his leg. He’ll be back but he too has regressed this season.
It was a disappointing finish to a stellar season for Cue Card, the English raider looking a pale shadow of the horse that won the Betfair Chase, King George and Betfred Bowl.
Trainer Colin Tizzard admitted it yesterday was one dance too many.
He said: “He pulled a bit early, which is a sign of a horse on edge at the end of the season. He then finished weakly, whereas all season he has finished strongly.”
His son and assistant Joe added: “We didn’t think he’d had a hard race at either Cheltenham or Aintree, but it’s probably just the end of the season taking its toll. He owes us nothing and he’ll be back to fight another day.”
As, of course, will Carlingford Lough. Ruby Walsh perhaps put it best when he said: “The winner just seems to win a lot of Grade Ones, and it’s time we gave him the respect he deserves as a Grade One horse.”
The time has come for that message to finally register.
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