Carlingford Lough emerged as a genuine Cheltenham Gold Cup contender as he rewarded the patience of his connections when giving Tony McCoy an emotional first success in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
Victory looked unlikely when the 4-1 chance made a mistake at the second-last fence, but the never-say-die attitude of the 19-times champion jockey came into play and the nine-year-old was a willing partner. Carlingford Lough, owned by McCoy’s boss JP McManus and trained by John Kiely, was galvanised back into contention and got the better of Foxrock on the run-in to win by three-quarters of a length.
It was only his fourth race since he unseated the soon-to-retire McCoy at this meeting 12 months ago. Kiely, having his first winner for 133 days, said: “We’ll take it a day at a time with him. We’ve been patient and he’s kept improving. I didn’t think he’d win a bumper, as he was slow at home, but he stayed well. And I still don’t think he would have won a bumper. But he would have broken his heart trying.”
McCoy said: “I might just get to steer him around on Gold Cup day at Cheltenham, which is probably the most important day of the whole jumping year and, on today’s performance, he’s got a live chance. He didn’t perform great there last year, but he just didn’t get into a rhythm. He feels in great shape and look. It’s a very open Gold Cup and he’s definitely going to go there with a chance.”
As McCoy warmly embraced Ted Walsh, trainer of Foxrock, the latter quipped: “It’s a pity he didn’t retire yesterday!”
Carlingford Lough was cut to 12-1 (from 20s) for Cheltenham with Ladbrokes and is 20-1 for the Crabbie’s Grand National.
Willie Mullins still hopes to run Boston Bob and On His Own in the Gold Cup, although they were only fourth and sixth respectively. “I imagine they’ll go to Cheltenham unless we find any problems. They were a little disappointing,” he said.
McCoy had whetted the appetite by booting home the Eddie Harty-trained Sort It Out (4-1 favourite) in the McManus colours in the Paddy Power “Number One 1 For Live Streaming” Handicap Hurdle.
Despite his Hennessy reverse, Mullins had a treble with Petite Parisienne, Nichols Canyon and Prince De Beauchene.
Nichols Canyon (9-2) bounced back after unseating his rider at Christmas with a convincing all-the-way win in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle.
Stablemate Alvisio Ville kept tabs on him until then but was well held from two out and faded once Ruby Walsh pressed the button on Nichols Canyon, who beat Windsor Park by three and a half lengths. “He did what he does on the Flat – stays,” said Mullins. “I’m very pleased with him. I imagine he would be a Neptune type but I wouldn’t rule out the Supreme.”
Owner Graham Wylie said: “He’s got bags of stamina. I had a very good horse some years ago called Inglis Drever who had bags of stamina and I’m just hoping that maybe he is up there with him.”
Nichols Canyon is 8-1 (from 16) for the Supreme and the Neptune with RaceBets.
Petite Parisienne (6-1) and Kalkir gave Mullins a one-two in a thrilling finish to the Gala Retail Spring Juvenile Hurdle.
The pair treated racegoers to a tremendous finish, with Bryan Cooper getting the maiden Petite Parisienne home by a length and three-quarters. “I’m happy with both of them and both will go to Cheltenham for the Triumph. That was a good prep run,” said Mullins.