Flemenstar shines at Punchestown
Presumably it will not take long for people to start hailing Sprinter Sacre as a two-mile steeplechaser without precedent, in keeping with the fatuous instinct that seems to demand indulgence with each new champion, both over jumps and on the Flat.
Those captivated by the sheer vitality of his reappearance at Sandown on Saturday should instead confine themselves to praying simply that he remains sound as his gorgeous physique nears maturity. And they might also count their blessings, that not quite 24 hours were required to volunteer a horse whose own exuberance made the divergence of their present paths a matter of wistful regret.
Certainly, the hallmark of Flemenstar's latest dominant performance, at Punchestown yesterday, was its boldness and precision. And while others might duly be inclined to keep him at two and a half miles, or even drop him back in trip for a showdown with Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, connections instead intend to explore his stamina.
Not that anyone will be quibbling with Peter Casey, the veteran trainer whose handling of Flemenstar qualifies their story as a romantic throwback to the days before the big spenders channelled all the best young prospects into the same few yards. For so small a stable to house a talent as immense as Flemenstar is nowadays a marvel indeed.
Not that there will be undue despondency in the camp of Sir Des Champs, himself in the care of a man who tends to give monopoly a good name, in Willie Mullins.
Sir Des Champs squared up to Flemenstar in the John Durkan Chase as a dual Cheltenham Festival winner, unbeaten in five starts over fences. But Flemenstar, spared Cheltenham as a novice, arrived with the advantage of having a race under his belt already this season, having won his sixth consecutive chase at Navan last month. It was always likely, then, that he might prise open fissures in the fitness of Sir Des Champs, who was making his first start since April.
Sure enough, Davy Russell was obliged to drive his mount along merely to join issue as they turned in, with Flemenstar still tanking along under Andrew Lynch. Another bold leap two out confirmed the leader to be nowhere near the margin of his comfort zone and Flemenstar came bounding five lengths clear. Russell, meanwhile, confined himself to just the one firm slap on Sir Des Champs. The only other runner, the useful Rubi Light, was beaten out of sight.
"He's still not ready," said Casey. "I've never had any doubt about him getting three miles and the Gold Cup is still the plan, long term."
He will now prepare Flemenstar for a race at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting, almost certainly in the Lexus Chase over three miles – though Casey was intriguingly reserving the right to drop back in trip for the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase. "I don't want to get to the bottom of him at this stage," he added. "If we feel it's best for the horse, he could go for the two-mile race at Christmas."
Mullins expressed satisfaction with Sir Des Champs, while acknowledging that he had at no stage been deceived that his horse might win. He may opt for a rematch in the Lexus, but will also consider the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Sir Des Champs has so far sampled three miles only once, outclassing a small field at Punchestown, but for now remains entitled to avenge yesterday's defeat given a stiffer test in March. For now Ladbrokes eased his Gold Cup odds from 5-1 to 7-1, while promoting Flemenstar to a share of 4-1 favouritism with Bobs Worth.
The latter, of course, is a stablemate of Sprinter Sacre and had himself made an impeccable start to his second season over fences at Newbury the previous weekend. However, if any British trainer can match the delight of Nicky Henderson just now, then it must be Ed Dunlop after saddling Red Cadeaux to win the Hong Kong Vase yesterday.
Having come within a nose of landing a first Melbourne Cup for Britain last year, Red Cadeaux this time had a lucrative photo go his way and so embellished Dunlop's exceptional cv in international racing.
CHRIS McGRATH'S NAP: King Brex (12.20 Musselburgh)
Ran his best race for his new stable when second over hurdles round here last time and returns to fences looking very well treated.
NEXT BEST: Blenheim Brook (2.50 Musselburgh)
Introduces class to this grade, having kept good company when second at Kelso last time, and has slipped temptingly down the weights.
ONE TO WATCH: Haaf A Sixpence (Ralph Beckett) is lightly raced and shaped well on his return from a lay-off at Kempton last week, clinging pluckily to third.
WHERE THE MONEY'S GOING: Road To Riches, who extended his unbeaten record for Noel Meade at Cork yesterday, is 16-1 from 25-1 with Sky Bet for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham.
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