James Lawton: Lynch steals Walsh's place in the spotlight on day of domination for the Irish

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There may be wonderment here at the scale of the Irish cavalry charge but there can be little mystery.

Not when you consider the style and the character of the 22-year-old from Co Meath who rode so beautifully out of the shadow of the all-conquering Ruby Walsh yesterday to seize the great prize of the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

It was the second punch of a one-two combination which told you so much of what you need to know about the depth and the competitive rigour of Ireland's jump racing.

Walsh seemed to have an instant hold on another chapter of Cheltenham domination but last night he had his young compatriot Andrew Lynch storming at his shoulder.

In a manner of speaking, we should say, because this is a youth who does his work with as much stealth as strength.

He just gets the trip with skill and superb concentration and now, with two wins to Walsh's three, and a good shot in the opening novice chase today, he may just have a dance card poised for dramatic enhancement.

Two bookings, two wins is the current state of his Cheltenham campaign. What would the great A P McCoy, bruised and still looking for his first win, give for such momentum?

Lynch is so self-effacing you might have missed him in the throng that responded to the victory he fashioned quite brilliantly on the back of 10-1 contender Sizing Europe. But then it is a rather different matter on the course.

Walsh and his gifted partner –and former champion – Master Minded were so obliged to pay Lynch and his driving strategy the closest attention they were pushed to their limits so far from the finish it was a small miracle they didn't fall two fences out.

Lynch was asked if the course was difficult to negotiate but we will never know if he considered the question even vaguely patronising. "Ah well," he said, "You would have to be stupid to get lost out there. I won the Arkle here last year on this horse and we found our way again quite well."

What Lynch, who drives across Ireland on a relentless schedule of preparation and racing for three stables, did best was create perfectly the optimum circumstances for a dazzling triumph. He knew that he had to set a pace to burn off the aristocrat Master Minded and last year's winner Big Zeb.

The winning trainer, Henry de Bromhead, offers Lynch as one reason why Irish racing has so magnificently rejected the idea that it was inevitably heading down in the wake of the Celtic Tiger. He cited the quality and ferocity of the competition an Irish rider and trainer faces every day of the week at places like Tramore and Punchestown. Yes, there is "savage" duelling across the Irish Sea most weekends but at home it is relentless.

Lynch is a definitive figure amid the maelstrom of such effort, the trainer suggested. He added: "Andrew is a great horseman – and a very nice guy, and he works bloody hard, driving the length and the breadth of the country. Nothing is ever too much trouble for him. It's easy to work with a guy like that – and today, well, it was just perfect. Sizing Europe has no turn of foot, he just gallops and gallops, so we agreed he had to have a strong pace – when they didn't go quick enough Andrew took it up and it paid off.

"He got into a beautiful rhythm. He winged the fences, bar the second one."

If there was damage, though, it barely lasted a second. While Walsh and Master Minded had their moment of disappointing truth, Lynch drove the willing Sizing Europe up into the rising ground and the certainty of victory.

It was, Irish aficionados generally agreed, another calling card from a rider plainly willing to cover the ground, do the work and wait with some confidence for his rewards.

Perhaps it gets a little wearisome reading all the headlines devoted to Ruby Walsh – maybe it can bring on a bout of restlessness in even the most phlegmatic and patient of young men?

A small smile flickers across a previously intent expression and he says: "Ruby is bringing the sport up to another level and you know we all look up to him." For Lynch, Walsh is more than an inspiration. He is an educator, a remorseless explorer of that haunting margin between winning and losing, but then is there anything sweeter than when a contender, who has strived so hard, covered every possibility, steps up to land a blow on the champion?

The one delivered yesterday was beautifully thrown. It had both authority and flair – and, yes, it was something to lift any young man's spirit. "No," said Lynch, "you don't get fed up of reading Ruby Walsh's headlines.

"He deserves every one of them for what he does – and how he does it. But, yes, it's nice to beat him now and again." There is a long, delicious pause, and then he adds, "In fact, it's grand."

Grand was a word that took on a life of its own and at least a dozen accents – running all the way from Donegal to Cork. Each new Irish victory seemed to carry a new notch of authority and the cheering began to lose a little of its frenzy, more a roll of confirmed belief. Of course, there is still time for an English comeback, a counter-attack from a man like Paul Nicholls or Nicky Henderson or Nigel Twiston-Davies.

In the meantime, though, it is hard to remember when Cheltenham felt more like the colony of a foreign power, one with a unique gallery of heroes and an enduring character. This week the fine jockey Mick Fitzgerald defined the difference between Royal Ascot and Cheltenham.

"At Ascot," he said, "the people come to be seen. Here they want to see the horses." Also true, no doubt, is the level of admiration for the men who handle them so masterfully.

Among this number we should maybe now include the shy winner from Co Meath.

Charity bets

During the Festival, top Flat trainers will give their views from the other side of the fence on jump racing's showcase occasion. Totesport is providing a free £100 stake for them, with any winnings going to their chosen charity.

Henry Cecil

The 10-times champion Flat trainer will today visit the Festival for the first time to saddle his runner Plato in the St Patrick's Day novelty amateurs' Flat race run in aid of Cancer Research. "I'm not a great authority on jump racing, though I do watch it a lot on TV," Cecil says. "Big Buck's looks like a horse with a great deal of class. And for the Gold Cup I was impressed by Imperial Commander in his last race. Rather obvious selections, though."

Comments