Boys in England and a Lad in Ireland provided real men's performances over a weekend of pure National Hunt excellence. It was 48 hours during which you could feel the vein-bulging excitement of the sport in participants and spectators.
What's Up Boys started it with victory most gallant in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday, but completion was accomplished yesterday by Limestone Lad in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse.
It was a contest in which the nine-year-old had beaten even the mighty Istabraq two years ago and so his rivals knew what was in store. They also knew the shape of the race. That is predetermined when Limestone Lad runs. He leads, and the rest have to view his big, bay rump and hope for signs of waning.
There were some useful animals skulking in the slipstream yesterday, with Ned Kelly and Liss A Paoraigh in behind the regular beacon at the head of the field. They were still moving easily down the far side as Paul Carberry ensured his mount understood he was not out for a Sunday stroll. The Lad felt leather on his hide on the turn into the straight.
The run for home sorted them out as Limestone exhibited the solid resolution which means he has been so well named. Those that had been cruising gradually started to hurt. By the post, Limestone Lad had ground three and a half lengths clear of Liss A Paoraigh. Ned Kelly was back in third and it was reported by his trainer, Edward O'Grady, that he had burst a blood vessel. There was no surprise in that.
Limestone Lad was recording his 27th win from 51 starts and will be entered for both the Champion Hurdle and Stayers' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Coral trimmed him to 5-1 (from 7-1) for the latter.
James Bowe, his trainer, stressed that only if the three-times Champion Hurdler Istabraq was absent would his star tackle the the shorter contest.
Carberry was also successful in the middle of three Grade One events at Fairyhouse on Noel Meade's Harbour Pilot in the Drinmore Novice Chase. It had been the turn of a now veteran Charlie Swan in the first leg when Like-A-Butterfly maintained her unbeaten record in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle.
Ireland's leading bumper horse of last year took this elevation in class in her stride and is already a leading candidate for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
This provided a ray of brightness in an otherwise dark weekend for her owner, J P McManus. It was at Newbury on Saturday, when the weather was similarly confused – fluctuating between horizontal rain and sunshine – that the owner's First Gold flopped over hurdles.
JP, however, knows what it is like to have a reverse in this sport and was not asking for directions to Beachy Head yesterday. "At least he ran to the line and they feel he is better over fences," McManus said. "I wasn't disappointed, but obviously we would have been happier if he had won. But he did have a hard season last year and it can often take a race or two to get them back."
Hard races are like nourishment for the Hennessy victor, What's Up Boys. This, we must remember, was the horse which won the Coral Cup at last year's Festival after jumping the final hurdle in 12th place. He finished that March day as if launched from a crossbow.
It must have been ominous therefore for the supporters of the Hennessy runner-up, Behrajan, when the dappled figure of the seven-year-old What's Up Boys started pumping his way forward in Saturday's closing stages. It was a finish, indeed an entire race, resonant of the appeal of winter racing. The Hennessy unfolded compellingly and not least of the winner's attributes was plain bravery.
What's Up Boys was showing no outward sign of his sapping journey yesterday, and future dips into his reservoir of courage are already being planned. "He's absolutely fine, no problem," Philip Hobbs, his Minehead-based trainer, reported. "He'll go for either the Welsh National or the King George and I think we'll decide nearer the time depending on ground and opposition."
The former looks the obvious target as the grey would incur only a 4lb penalty. "Obviously that's a bit tempting," Hobbs added, "but I'm not sure that three mile six furlongs round there on heavy ground would be ideal for him."Reuse content