Little wonder the British are keeping their best horses at home. Even the non-runners here would be too good for them. The six who lined up for the big race yesterday were led round the parade ring by Kicking King and Numbersixvalverde, respectively winners of the 2005 Cheltenham Gold Cup and the 2006 Grand National. They are resting on their laurels for now, but the point was pretty plain even before War Of Attrition went on to the track and gilded a vintage era in Irish jump racing.
With Kicking King recuperating from injury, War Of Attrition seized his crown at Cheltenham last month and his performance in the Guinness Gold Cup confirmed that there will be no restoration without civil war.
He won eased down by Conor O'Dwyer, having made all, so matching Newmill's lap of honour the previous day. The aggressive running style of Brave Inca, who runs tomorrow, makes it quite possible that all three Irish champions anointed at Cheltenham will leave Punchestown without seeing another horse gallop.
War Of Attrition set only a steady pace and Michael Hourigan's pair, Beef Or Salmon and Hi Cloy, closed mutinously approaching three out but the favourite heard them coming. "He pricked his ears and came up on his own," O'Dwyer said. "He wasn't going to wait for me. That's the kind of confidence he has in everything he does. We were over before I knew about it."
His only blemish was a persistent tendency to jump left, but O'Dwyer was adamant that he would have been more attentive with a bit of company. He certainly jumped the last with undiminished energy before comfortably resisting the laboured pursuit of Beef Or Salmon by two and a half lengths.
Even a trainer as weathered as Mouse Morris could not repress his admiration. "If you set out to make a horse, that's what you would come up with," he said. "He has everything. He's a natural at his fences, he has the foot to win over two miles, but he stays so well too. As Conor said, he has no holes in him. He's getting to know more about racing, learning every day. Mentally he's more in touch, and physically he can only improve with another year on him."
Though a relative novice in this game, his owner has the sense to be satisfied with the present. "Everyone knows how hard it is for a Gold Cup winner to come back and do it all again," Michael O'Leary said. "Certainly I know that I'll never have another one like this in my lifetime. I should really stop buying horses now, because the rest will be all downhill. If you're this jammy, this quickly, you have a lot of disappointment ahead of you."
O'Leary had watched the race alongside Hourigan. The two men spent the first circuit wisecracking but fell silent as O'Dwyer turned the screw. Once over the last, Hourigan turned to the Ryanair boss and offered generous congratulations. The last few weeks have introduced him to the limitations in Beef Or Salmon, but he will play to his strengths next season, when he hopes that Hi Cloy, a length and a half back in third, will continue to progress.
"They have both run well after a hard season," Hourigan said. "Beef Or Salmon has probably lost some of his speed, on this dry ground at least. He's still one of the top horses in Ireland, but there's a new kid now and fair play to him."
Forget The Past was tailed off after blundering as the pace quickened. He was Barry Geraghty's only mount on his return from injury, and Ruby Walsh rubbed in the salt with a treble on the card, in the process more or less wrapping up the Irish championship. But the star turn among the riders was Nina Carberry, who confirmed herself first among equals with a first Grade One success in the Paddy Power Champion Bumper.
She gave Leading Run a tremendous ride to see off the Cheltenham winner, Hairy Molly, and then hold the late charge of Lord Over. Now unbeaten in four starts, Leading Run is ranked as highly as any horse in his care by Noel Meade, who hopes that he can match the recent achievements of Nicanor and Iktitaf when he goes over hurdles next season.
* Peter Bowen ended a spell in the doldrums when Burren Moonshine (9-2) won the last race at Perth yesterday. It was the first winner for the Welsh trainer since 18 February.
NB: Sir Gerard
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