Comeback sets Last Instalment up for Festival

Brian OConnell celebrates his success aboard Last Instalment. Picture: PABrian OConnell celebrates his success aboard Last Instalment. Picture: PA
Brian OConnell celebrates his success aboard Last Instalment. Picture: PA
Last Instalment added a new chapter to his career when making his comeback complete with victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup Chase at Leopardstown.

The nine-year-old had been off since February 2012 until he came back last month and showed the benefit of that previous outing to cause a minor surprise in this three-mile Grade One.

The 8-1 chance, trained by Philip Fenton, powered home in the hands of Brian O’Connell. Tidal Bay finished with a flourish to claim second place.

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Owners Gigginstown House Stud had three in the race, with Roi Du Mee taking an early lead before Last Instalment jumped ahead at the second fence.

The 7-4 favourite, First Lieutenant, in the same colours and the choice of retained jockey Bryan Cooper, tried to make a bid but Last Instalment had other ideas. He galloped on strongly to score by eight and a half lengths from Tidal Bay (5-2), with First Lieutenant third and Texas Jack fourth.

Fenton said: “It was a great performance and he jumped great. It wasn’t ideal to be as handy as that, but after the first fence Brian had little option. It was a bit of a concern coming here on just his second run back, taking on that sort of competition, but he was brilliant.”

A delighted O’Connell said: “He was exceptional. It wasn’t the plan to make the running, but it’s worked out in a slow-run race. This is special.”

Last Instalment was slashed in price to around 8-1 for the Betfred Gold Cup, but Fenton accepts the prospect of faster ground could be an issue at the Cheltenham Festival in March. He said: “There’s a big chance it would dry up. We’d be happy to see rainfall.”

Michael O’Leary, who owns the horse under his Gigginstown banner, said: “He’s been off for two years and he’s very fragile. “I’m not sure if the ground was very good in Cheltenham we’d run him. We have to mind those horses and we don’t have many as good as him.”

On a top card, owner Rich Ricci, trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh grabbed a Grade One double with Vautour and Ballycasey.

Ballycasey (2-1) proved an able deputy for Champagne Fever by outpointing Don Cossack in the Dr PJ Moriarty Novice Chase.

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Absent since making a winning debut over fences in November, the Willie Mullins-trained grey made most of the running and rallied superbly to beat the even-money favourite by four lengths. The only other runner, Carlingford Lough, unseated Tony McCoy at the final fence.

“He’s not bad for a first reserve,” said Mullins. “He worked at Punchestown last week and Paul [Townend, jockey] said he worked really well. “Fingers crossed he’ll be all right for Cheltenham. He’d have RSA written all over him at the moment. He’ll probably be better on better ground.”

Ballycasey was promoted to RaceBets’ 5-1 favourite for the RSA Chase at the Festival in March.

Vautour (7-4) burst The Tullow Tank bubble with a convincing all-the-way win in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle.

Walsh dictated affairs on the five-year-old, who comfortably held the 9-10 favourite by three lengths to leapfrog that rival as ante-post favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Mullins said: “I was concerned there’d be no pace. We always think that when you’ve got a good horse you have to have a good pace. He jumped very well in front and I was very happy with him. I’m still happy to go to the Supreme with him.”

The other Grade One went to the Dessie Hughes-trained Guitar Pete (9-2), who booked his place in the JCB Triumph Hurdle with a solid victory in the Gala Retail Spring Juvenile Hurdle. The race was won 12 months ago by stablemate Our Conor and Hughes looks to have another serious contender for the juvenile championship at Cheltenham.