There were only four runners in the final big race of the Festival here yesterday but they still managed to complete the impression that this is a bounteous epoch in Irish jump racing.
They were led around the parade ring by Istabraq himself, bucking with resentment that he could no longer join them in earnest, but he never had to deal with the same depth of opposition as the horse who now wears his crown.
Indeed, the reunion of Brave Inca, Macs Joy and Hardy Eustace - the first three in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last month - seemed to borrow the vintage flavour of names such as Night Nurse, Sea Pigeon and Monksfield.
As it turned out, Brave Inca could not match the imperious homecoming of Newmill, War Of Attrition and Asian Maze, who had all added this week to their recent depredations in Britain. Instead it was Macs Joy, beaten by Brave Inca in all five of their previous meetings, who finally avenged his nemesis in the ACC Bank Hurdle.
But even his trainer,Jessica Harrington, recognised that things had been in their favour. The sunshine and breezes of a gorgeous spring day may have suited the Ladies' Day crowd, but they did not find favour with Brave Inca, who was confirmed a runner only after the track had been watered overnight.
Off the bridle almost throughout, he responded to Tony McCoy with his usual generosity but this time his legs could not keep up with his heart. By halfway, Colm Murphy was matching Brave Inca's every stride with a kind of exaggerated nod of his head and shoulders, his neck muscles swelling with stress. Nowonder the trainer has lost all his hair already.
Murphy knew the game was up as he watched Macs Joy all but carting Barry Geraghty into the lead with three to jump. They went four lengths clear, but at least Brave Inca plugged on to finish a length ahead of Hardy Eustace, who had made much of the running but struggled to hold Essex for third.
"He's run a cracker," Murphy said. "I always said that two miles round here might get him beat, and it has. Tony said he was never really travelling, but all credit to Macs Joy." Brave Inca always gives himself a hard race and he will now get an overdue rest, but remains 4-1 favourite for the 2007 Smurfit Champion Hurdle with Paddy Power, with Macs Joy 8-1 from 12-1.
"We got him at last!" Harrington exclaimed. "Barry changed tactics a bit today, and it really paid off. Maybe we should be taking them on a bit earlier.
"Our horse really appreciates this sort of ground and maybe Brave Inca did not. But he deserved this, he is such a tough horse. I don't know if he appreciates Cheltenham as much as Brave Inca or Hardy Eustace, but he loves it here."
Poor Geraghty is disfigured at present by stitching to a grotesque cut in his chin, an injury that coincided with a magical week for Ruby Walsh. That has settled the Irish jockeys' championship, and Walsh added the icing when taking over from another rider in the wars, Paul Carberry, on Nicanor in the Dunboyne Castle Champion Novices' Hurdle - in turn sealing another trainers' title for Noel Meade. Nicanor was exhausted by the line, but so was the runner-up, and confirmed the suspicion raised at Cheltenham that he would have ample speed for two miles. Sure enough Meade hopes to aim him at the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy next year.
Refinement could never land a blow, distilling the fortunes of the British overall this week. A "greenwash" was thwarted in the least expected fashion, however, when Olney Lad made all at 25-1 in the novice handicap chase - much the biggest success ever enjoyed by his trainer, Renee Robeson.Reuse content