MASTER MINDED was supposed to cruise through last evening’s Kerrygold Champion Chase at Punchestown and then skip back across the Irish Sea with another €124,000 plus to his credit.
Nothing, however, could have been further from the truth. Master Minded won alright, but to say he was lucky would qualify as the understatement of the season.
He set off in front, jumped quickly and accurately and a fine leap over the third last seemed to have sealed the deal.
Big Zeb was struggling to keep in touch, as Ruby Walsh allowed the highest rated chaser in these islands to slip into a clear lead.
Master Minded, though, got in a little tight to the second last and, suddenly, Walsh had to go for broke.
Barry Geraghty was now getting a real tune from Big Zeb, who rallied back to throw down a huge challenge going to the final fence.
Master Minded still held the call, but not by much. Big Zeb, however, ploughed into the obstacle and his chance appeared to have gone.
But Paul Nicholls’ six-year-old found little on the flat and Big Zeb roared back at him to fail by a fast diminishing head.
Said Nicholls: “He (Master Minded) was idling all the way up the straight and wants someone to go and give him a lead.
“I told Ruby to go on and to keep it uncomplicated. But this is the back-end of the season and, though he only had three runs coming here, has been in since July. It was a gamble coming.
“Big Zeb ran a big race, but jumping is the name of the game. Like Kauto Star, you are learning about these horses all the time.
“Master Minded has got quite idle at home. He will start off in the Tingle Creek (Sandown) next season and, I suspect, Free World will be with him.”
Geraghty said of Big Zeb: “We met the last long, but had to commit. We went from being upsides to two lengths down.”
Hurricane Fly, absent since Christmas with a splint problem, made a stylish reappearance when coasting home in the Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle.
There was little pace for much of the contest and that was hardly in favour of the odds-on shot.
But Hurricane Fly was never out of second gear, after being ridden in behind by Ruby Walsh. He made his move between Fosters Cross and Kempes going to the last, led in a matter of strides and eased away to score unextended by seven lengths.
The reaction from the bookmakers was swift and Willie Mullins’ charge is now the clear favourite for the Champion Hurdle.
He is 5-1 with William Hill, Cashmans and Grahams, 7-2 with Boylesports and as short as 3-1 with Paddy Power.
His performance thrilled Mullins. “I am absolutely delighted with that,” he exclaimed. “He did a piece of work with Ruby the other day and it was the best he has done all season.
“We couldn't get over how good it was. It was extraordinary that he got a splint at his age.
“We were worried there would be no pace, but I told Ruby to ride him like a good horse. I see him as a Champion Hurdle contender.
“I don’t think he will run on the flat and probably won’t go to France either. I will wait until Punchestown is over before making that decision.”
Cooldine went off an odds-on favourite, although uneasy in the ring, to completed a Grade 1 treble for Walsh in the boylesports.com Champion Novice Chase, but disappointed.
The hard season had clearly taken its toll and he was already beaten when blundering badly at the second last.
Victory went to Dessie Hughes’ Rare Bob, who jumped for fun and strode powerfully up the straight to beat Gone To Lunch.
“He didn’t get the trip in the Irish National, but it made a man of him,” said Hughes. “I couldn’t win a hurdle race with the horse, but he has terrific cruising speed and was always going to be a chaser.”
Cooldine was later reported to have scoped wrong.
Jessica Harrington's Imperial Cascade battled on doggedly to take the valuable Goffs’ Land Rover bumper, redeeming the promise of his debut at Fairyhouse.
The winner and Sparkling Tara went toe-to-toe up the straight, but the battle was always going in favour of Imperial Cascade and the trainer's daughter, Kate.
“Kate gave it a great ride, down the inside, she’s very fond of that rail, said Harrington. “This is a nice horse and he is finished now for the season.”
It was a good day for the Walsh family, with Ted and daughter, Katie, teaming up to take the Ladies Cup over the banks with last year's winner, Wedger Pardy.
The blinkered gelding revels in this type of the contest. He made a lot of the running, under a dashing drive from Katie, powering clear from Ruby's Double, which is called after her late grandfather.
Commented Walsh senior: “He loves the banks and jumps them well. He will probably run again Saturday.”
The John Hanlon-trained Truckers Delight literally ran away with the Masterchefs Hospitality Handicap Hurdle.
Partnered by Conor O’Farrell, Truckers Delight stormed ahead going to the final flight to beat The Last Derby by six lengths.
Nicky Henderson’s newcomer Quantitativeeasing, ridden by JP Magnier, outclassed the opposition in the Brian Price Memorial Bumper and certainly looks one for the future.
The attendance was 16,324, as against 18,168 last year, while the bookmakers held €488,000 less than last year.
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