Just over nine months after breaking a fetlock at Liverpool, Ireland's favourite jumper - since those sported by Val Doonican - ran a remarkable race to finish a close third, beaten less than a length, in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown. Before racing, Tom Foley, Danoli's trainer, had given his horse as much chance as Ironside in his comeback race, and as he threw his arms around the gelding afterwards it was as much out of surprise as pleasure.
Collier Bay was the unlucky winner here, unlucky because his brave performance disappeared swiftly into the quicksands as the enormity of Danoli's performance sank in. Jim Old's representative trotted silently into the winners' area as the crowd girded themselves for Danoli's arrival.
The cameras of RTE also forgot the British victor, the first winner of the race from over the water since Royal Derbi in 1993, as spectators stood 10 deep around Foley and the crew with a camera and a large, hairy sausage. "I knew the horse was fairly fit but I must say I am more than surprised he finished in the money," the trainer said. "I would have been happy to see him run a good race and finish sound. Touch wood he stays right and goes to Gowran next month for the Red Mills race that should leave him ripe for the Champion Hurdle."
Danoli is now as low as 3-1 joint-favourite for the Champion with Ladbrokes, a position he shares with Alderbrook, who has yet to prove that he too can throw away the crutches.
Such a price looked somewhat unlikely yesterday as Danoli showed all the signs of a fresh horse, running freely and jousting with his jockey, Tommy Treacy, for dominance in the partnership. Destriero tugged the field along, and, when he dropped away, the 5-4 favourite Montelado loomed menacingly at the turn into the straight. Pat Flynn's runner, who looked a little burly in the paddock, then followed Destriero into reverse.
Collier Bay appeared as if he would be swamped by Hotel Minella after the last but he rallied on the run-in to get back in front. Both the forecast horses were cut extravagantly for Cheltenham, but could not match what they achieved in the race and finish ahead of Danoli. The eight-year-old pressed on again after being outpaced in the straight and opinion seemed to be that he would have prevailed in another 50 yards. "I was instructed to mind the horse and bring him back in one piece and I would have been quite happy to finish a fair third until Danoli flew the last hurdle and put his head down and showed what courage he has," Treacy said. "I am really looking forward to Gowran now and the Champion Hurdle if he stays sound."
Danoli was not the only horse sending out poor signals in the initial stages. Jamie Osborne, Collier Bay's jockey, felt his mount was travelling so badly he might as well take the keys out of the ignition. "I feared he was the first horse beaten," he said. "He wasn't travelling well for the first half of the race and I had to give him a smack with the whip after the fourth last to get him stoked up. Once I pulled him wide of a few horses after the third-last he came back on the bridle and after the second-last quickened up well."
Aidan O'Brien, Ireland's champion jumps trainer and the man behind Hotel Minella, was far from despondent about his charge's display. "Just watch him when he gets the good ground he needs, hopefully at Cheltenham," he said. Hotel Minella will surely have his watchers at Prestbury Park in March, but the certainty is that the bulk of the binoculars will be trained on another Irish horse.
LEOPARDSTOWN (2.45) 1. COLLIER BAY (J Osborne) 5-1; 2. Hotel Minella 8-1; 3. Danoli 10-1. 11 ran. 5-4 fav Montelado (4th) hd, 1/2. (J Old). Tote: pounds 5.10; pounds 2.00, pounds 2.90, pounds 3.30. Reverse Forecast: pounds 31.70. CSF: pounds 47.36.
CHAMPION HURDLE (Cheltenham, 12 March): Coral: 11-4 Alderbrook, 4-1 Danoli, 8-1 Collier Bay, Hotel Minella & Montelado, 10-1 Mysilv; Ladbrokes: 3- 1 Alderbrook & Danoli, 8-1 Collier Bay, 10-1 Hotel Minella, 10-1 Montelado & Mysilv, 12-1 Atours, 14-1 Right Win; William Hill: 5-2 Alderbrook, 4- 1 Danoli, 8-1 Montelado & Mysilv, 10-1 Atours, 12-1 Right Win, 14-1 Collier Bay & Hotel Minella.Reuse content