Get Real signs in with victory for Henderson

Athletics has its ironman triathlons and when it comes to racing the same equivalent is achieved by Irish Festivals. They have these bonanzas at places such as Listowel, Tralee and Galway, among others, and if you complete all of them it is a measure of both the working pot and the quality of your major organs.

Punchestown's four-day festival began here yesterday and, while the same driven audience was in place, there was much different about the pleasure fest. For a start, Punchestown itself has changed. No longer do we have a sprinkling of drinking Nissen huts surrounding a spartan grandstand. In the new Celtic tiger economy Punchestown looks rather like a harbour-front development without the harbour.

There are new bricks, treated wood and a smell of newness. Yesterday too there was the sort of weather that the cliché books do not contain for Ireland. The sun gunned down, dust flew in the car parks and gentlemen actually removed their jackets. As we drove up the path to the racecourse it was through a great avenue of flagpoles rippling with the corporate logo of BMW.

Ireland must be a different country. If this was the West Midlands and Longbridge the pennants may not have flown for long. That is not to say there is no great British affection for this land. Trainers seem able to jet in here and enjoy themselves despite the overwhelming hospitality that is thrown their way.

Nicky Henderson was gleefully signing autographs at Dublin airport after touchdown and was happy to give a tip to those who enquired. Get Real, he suggested, was a good thing. The selection's name could have been levelled at the man himself considering his nine-year-old was taking on the Cheltenham Festival winner Edredon Bleu, as well as the flamboyant Aintree victor Cenkos.

But Nicky, we should never have doubted you. Henderson had won the BMW Chase two years ago with Big Matt, but here there were great reservations about a repeat. There were fears that this contest would pan out like the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in December, when Get Real and Edredon Bleu were spiteful combatants at the front of the field, fighting for domination and allowing another to come from behind and clean up.

Get Real, as he must do, led from flagfall yesterday and Edredon Bleu was soon in close attendance. Henrietta Knight's representative had won the Queen Mother Champion Chase seven weeks earlier in the mother of all finishes with Direct Route but there developed signs that that was not a victory without cost. Edredon Bleu was at the heels of the leader but he was not challenging. He was hanging on. The going was yielding and, soon, so was he.

Up front, Mick Fitzgerald was a magnificently poised figure on Get Real. After he passed the post a length to the good, the jockey revisiting his homeland said he was little more significant than his countrymen in the grandstand in this win. His clenched fist at the winning post, the sign of a perfect judgement of pace, told a different story.

"He was beautifully prepared and I was just a passenger up there," the jockey said. He should have winked. Henderson is never without his moments here and the back of his diary already contains a memo to return in 12 months' time. He will find some beasts and he will prepare them for what are increasingly valuable assignments, especially when you are taking on animals exhausted by the previous galas of Cheltenham and Liverpool. "He'll never go left-handed again in his life. He just can't do it," the trainer said. "The way he is and the way he is handicapped means he can only really go for three races next year and he will end up here again.''

The strains of Cheltenham also told on Supreme Novice Hurdle hero Sausalito Bay. He started at 4-7 for the Champiion Novice Hurdle but finished a well-beaten third behind Jessica Harrington's Moscow Flyer - his first defeat in four outings over timber.

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