However frivolous the curiosity provoked by his trainer last season, there can be no doubt that Flemenstar is a very serious talent.
After he had a breakthrough success at Leopardstown in January, Peter Casey achieved instant celebrity in Ireland with his salacious remarks in a live television interview. But while this mischievous septuagenarian undoubtedly contributes to the appeal of Flemenstar, in a sport nowadays dominated by a few big stables, attention is increasingly commanded by the horse himself. Rising eight, and entering a majestic physical pomp, he is now 7-1 from 9-1 with Coral for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup – even though his comeback performance at Navan yesterday would warrant still shorter odds for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
With a long campaign beckoning, Casey had warned that Flemenstar would need the run in the Fortria Chase. His rivals, in contrast, arrived either with races already under their belt, or a record of going especially well fresh – the veteran, Big Zeb, having won the last three runnings. Having proved himself over two and a half miles at Fairyhouse in the spring, and the Gold Cup evidently top of his agenda, any kind of prominent showing back over the minimum distance would have represented a perfectly acceptable foundation. As it was, Flemenstar saw out the race with terrific panache.
Jumping superbly in the lead for Andrew Lynch, he was briefly menaced by Big Zeb from three fences out, but came bounding clear from the last to win by seven lengths. Realt Dubh admittedly dropped away after a mistake at halfway, but this was none the less an immaculate resumption. "When he is fit he'll be a good one!" Casey said. "He has got stronger since last year but he was only 80 per cent fit today. We'd done just enough work to get him here, but he blew up down the back."
The Co Meath trainer will now restore Flemenstar to two and a half miles in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown on 9 December, before testing his stamina over three – the Lexus Chase at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting looking an obvious cue for that experiment. In one or both of those races, Flemenstar could well bump into the other top novice to emerge from Ireland last season, Sir Des Champs. "I have no worries about the longer trip," Casey said. "He's bred to get it and I think he will."
Coming the day after John Gosden, Richard Hughes and Amy Ryan had formally sealed their respective titles, at the final turf fixture of the British Flat season, Flemenstar gave immediate impetus to the jumps agenda. Lynch had already ridden two good horses earlier on the card, however, albeit with contrasting fortunes. Voler La Vedette was turned over at 1-7 on her return, but Sizing Rio followed up an 18-length romp at Punchestown with another promising success in his second start over hurdles. It may be that Henry De Bromhead, who runs Sizing Europe at Clonmel on Thursday, has found a potential heir to his stable star. "He is a real galloping horse and the faster they go the better he'll be," De Bromhead said. "He's a big, raw four-year-old – one for the future, and fences." He added that better ground would suit Sizing Rio, who will now be given a break before himself heading to Leopardstown at Christmas.
Ted Walsh also has a very promising youngster on his hands in Champagne James, a stylish winner of the bumper on his debut. Back on the home front, meanwhile, the usual mediocre Monday fare is relieved at Carlisle today by the reappearance of Cappa Bleu in a graduation chase.
Last seen finishing strongly for fourth in the John Smith's Grand National, the former champion hunter remains very lightly raced and Evan Williams plans to gear his whole season to Aintree.
Williams prepared State Of Play to make the frame in three consecutive Nationals and, all going well in the meantime, can clearly be trusted to bring Cappa Bleu to his peak next April. "We wanted to find him a nice little race somewhere so he can go and enjoy himself," Williams said. "He's still inexperienced, having only had seven runs over fences, so we'll keep chipping away with him. The National is the only race I'm thinking of."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Well Hello There (2.15 Southwell) Showed he can go well fresh when landing a gamble on his return last winter and remains unexposed, having disappeared after pulling miles clear at Ascot last December.
Set In Her Ways (2.45 Southwell) Stable in form and looks fairly treated on her bumper form and bumped into a well treated one when travelling nicely over a longer trip on her last visit here.
One to watch
Magic Hurricane (James Fanshawe) shaped nicely on his debut at Nottingham the other day, promising more to come over middle distances.
Where the money's going
Al Ferof is 10-1 from 16-1 with William Hill for the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday.
- More about: