Racing: Newmill dispels doubts with champion display
Wednesday 26 April 2006
Having arrived as a prophet without honour in his own country, Newmill finally secured due homage at Punchestown yesterday. He faced only five rivals, and had thrashed two of them in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham last month. Yet Fota Island, who had meanwhile endured a hard race at Aintree, still started as short as 9-4, with Newmill 5-4. Clearly many suspected that the latter's performance at Cheltenham had been too good to be true.
Sure enough, he replicated it almost precisely in the Kerrygold Champion Chase, freewheeling in the lead and reducing his pursuers one by one. Only some rather casual jumping threatened his supremacy, notably at the second fence where Andrew McNamara was trying to prevent him going too hard too early. Otherwise the race proved a mere lap of honour. As he coasted up the run-in, obliterating Fota Island by 15 lengths, local patriots were torn between admiration and self-reproach. They now have the evidence of their own eyes that Newmill deserves his place on the same podium as Brave Inca and War Of Attrition, the two other Irish champions who defend their Cheltenham laurels here this week.
Newmill has certainly flourished since his transfer to the care of John Murphy, who believes him capable of stretching his energies over three miles. "We'll play it by ear, but we may step him up in trip next season and he could well go to the King George," the trainer said.
"He loves to bowl along, but you would be surprised, if you dropped him in, how well he settles. He is a gift of a horse and has such a high cruising speed. He usually jumps well, although he had a couple of scares today. Maybe it was the whole expanse of the course, as there are no running rails in places."
Mouse Morris, who saddles War Of Attrition in the Guinness Gold Cup today, conceded that Fota Island had simply bitten off more than he could chew. "The winner was just too good for us, end of story," he said. "They just went that shade too quick for him."
Fota Island's owner, J P McManus, also settled for second in the other Grade One race on the card, the VC Bet Champion Novices' Hurdle, though Straw Bear was almost certainly betraying his generous recent efforts at Cheltenham and Aintree. Instead it was the freshest horse in the race, Iktitaf, who showed why he had been so well regarded by his trainer, Noel Meade, prior to suffering an injury here in February.
The field crawled early on and Straw Bear, whose jumping again lacked fluency, tried to seize the initiative but was never going with the same brio as at Liverpool. Iktitaf blazed past him approaching the final flight and went seven lengths clear on the run-in, earning a quote of 12-1 from the sponsors of this race for the 2007 Smurfit Champion Hurdle. "It would be great to start thinking he was that kind of horse," Meade said. "I was very impressed with him."
Perhaps the best value for patient speculators, however, rests with Missed That, whose success in the Ellier Developments Novices' Chase - one of three wins on the card for Willie Mullins - confirmed that he could well develop into a Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup contender next year.
He was one of several horses from his stable to run tamely at Cheltenham this year, but the chances are that he found two miles too sharp anyhow and he would not be the first champion bumper horse to discover his ultimate vocation as a staying chaser. Certainly he powered away from Slim Pickings at the end of two miles and five furlongs here, and William Hill's offer of 25-1 about Missed That for the Gold Cup next year is quite tempting.
For now, however, the standard is set by War Of Attrition, whose Cheltenham victim, Hedgehunter, has since lent substance to the form with that marvellous effort at Aintree.
"We have freshened him up since the Gold Cup and he seems well enough," Morris said. "He was trained for Cheltenham, though, and not for Punchestown. You never know until they run what effect a race has on them, you can never tell what it's taken out of them."
The small field today will take the pressure off that claustrophobic jumper, Beef Or Salmon. He seems a different horse on home soil and enjoyed a spin over hurdles last week, but the drying ground is against him.
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