When a horse gets the approbation of those who graft at the coal face, it must be counted the nearest thing to a vote of approval from his fellows. So step forward, Adamant Approach, the racehorse's racehorse. Yesterday at Leopardstown the gelding celebrated the advent of his 14th year by winning for the 11th time on his 53rd outing. Giving weight to all his 26 rivals bar one, he prevailed by a head in the Pertemps Cheltenham qualifier, produced on the line by his trainer Willie Mullins' schoolboy son Patrick, only four years his senior.
Adamant Approach is on the Horse of the Year shortlist put forward by the Irish Stable Staff Association and yesterday's tenacious success - his sixth over hurdles; he has also won a bumper, three chases and a Flat race and earned some £220,000 - was a timely presentation of his lass Tracey Gilmour's case, seven years less three weeks from the day he made a winning debut in a bumper on the Co Dublin track.
It appears, from his record, that Adamant Approach was not so much foaled, as quarried, but it is a reputation that has taken time to grow into. "He won five races last year and he's started this one with a bang," said Mullins. "He seems so sound theses days, but it wasn't always so. He was favourite for the Cheltenham bumper as a six-year-old, but went wrong a few days before and we had to withdraw him.
"It's only in his latter years that he's become so durable, and developed a combination of speed and stamina. He's a remarkable character and Patrick, who rides him out and adores him, knows every inch of him."
Yesterday was Adamant Approach's first try at three miles and he is likely to stay at marathon trips now. His target at Cheltenham - where he has been a regular, falling at the last in the Supreme Novices' on his first visit when looking all over the winner, and third in the County Hurdle last year on his latest- will be either the Pertemps Final or the Coral Cup.
The gallant 13-year-old's most lucrative payday came five years ago, when he took the Pierce Hurdle as a novice, en route to his Cheltenham tumble. The latest victor, 16-1 shot Spring The Que will also head for the Festival, but the County Hurdle is almost an afterthought. Yesterday, in time-honoured fashion, was the plan.
And a tremendous piece of long-term planning it was too by Robert Tyner. The West Cork trainer has had problematic times with his eight-year-old charge, who damaged his back nearly two years ago and returned to action after a long layoff with a gratifying second place at Punchestown last month.
Dropped back to two miles, and with claimer Philip Enright taking seven pounds off, the gelding ran out a two and a half-length winner from Adamant Approach's stablemate Mister Hight. It was a fine performance in a competitive contest round Leopardstown's sharp inner track by the cool young rider, belying his inexperience.
"You can never be over-confident in a 30-runner race," said Tyner, "but I knew the horse was very well. We'd hoped to get two runs into him before this one, but he came out of the first in such good form we didn't need to.
"He has the class to travel through the race and he was very well in at the weights. We could go to Cheltenham with him, but to be honest this was the race we've been thinking about for two and a half years."
Both Mister Hight and another Closutton inmate, ninth-placed Quatre Heures, will be seen next in Britain, in next month's Tote Gold Trophy at Newbury, as will the third, New Field. Yesterday's race was marred, though, by the death of Breathing Fire, from the Jessica Harrington yard, in a first-flight fall.
The Irish National has been a significant recent pointer to the real thing at Aintree - as Bobbyjo and Numbersixvalverde have attested - and last year's Fairyhouse winner Point Barrow advertised his own credentials by carrying top-weight to success in the Leopardstown Chase.
Timmy Murphy landed the Pat Hughes-trained nine-year-old the three-quarter-length winner from A New Story in the shadow of the post, but it was not one of the jockey's confident, cheeky waiting rides. Rather, he was hard at work from some way out and still had eight in front as he drove round the home turn.
Nap: Wingman (Plumpton 1.30)
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