Annacotty digs deep for Cheltenham glory

Irish Cavalier jumps the last in front but Annacotty and Ian Popham (yellow cap) prevailed. Picture: PA
Irish Cavalier jumps the last in front but Annacotty and Ian Popham (yellow cap) prevailed. Picture: PA
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Annacotty lifted the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham for trainer Alan King and jockey Ian Popham.

Having his first run for King’s Barbury Castle yard, it was a deserved success for Popham, who has seen his career blighted by injury.

Irish Cavalier looked to have everything covered at the third-last, which he jumped together with Double Ross and favourite Kings Palace, who had assumed control before four out when moving smoothly to the head of affairs.

But as is often the case at Cheltenham, it was a much changed picture from the last, with Annacotty (12-1) staying on strongly to repel the late thrust of Buywise by half a length.

Sound Investment was third and Double Ross fourth. Remarkably, Irish Cavalier finished out of the frame.

Popham said: “I want to say a big thank you to the owners and their racing manager, and to Mr King for letting me keep the association with the horse, it means a lot to me.

“I knew his stamina would come into play, he jumped brilliantly and travelled everywhere I wanted to.

“He dug deep at the end for me and it’s a great training performance to win first time up without a run.”

Popham won the Grade One Kauto Star Novices’ Chase with Annacotty at Kempton on Boxing Day of 2013, and was recording his fifth win on the seven-year-old, who was formerly trained by Martin Keighley.

He added: “I’m delighted for the horse, he’s been very good to me.

“That was the most incredible feeling, I honestly thought my career was on its backside at the start of season, I was really struggling, riding some moderate horses and it was getting to me.

“That’s only my third win of the season and until last week I hadn’t had a winner at all. It just shows how this game goes.”

King, winning the race for the first time, said: “We were happy with him at home and probably just the change of scenery has helped him and freshened him up a bit, because he does think about things.

“At the top of the hill I thought we were in big trouble, but stamina has kicked in at the end I think.

“He’s a lovely horse to deal with and interestingly his mother is the first winner I ever trained in 1999. So I’ve always had an eye on him.

“I just wanted to get today out the way, he’s got an entry in the Hennessy but I don’t think we’ll go down that route. This might have been his day, catch him fresh on his first run.”

Meanwhile, Nicky Henderson was yesterday anticipating a “sleepless night” ahead of Sprinter Sacre’s planned return to action in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham today.

The former two-mile king is out to get back to winning ways for the first time since April 2013, but rain at the Prestbury Park venue yesterday and the potential for more means his participation is in the balance.

Henderson said: “I’d have been very, very hopeful on good ground, but tomorrow is now a worry.

“We’ve had a little meeting and are going to sleep on it. I’m dying to run him and he needs a run.

“We’ll do everything we can to run, we’ll just have to keep an eye on it.

“Simon Claisse [clerk of the course] says he is going to be here at 4.30am and I’ll be ringing him as I think we are all going to have a sleepless night.”