Beforehand his owner, Michael O'Leary, had pronounced it "ludicrous" that Sir Des Champs should already be favourite for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham next year – never mind at such short odds for his first start in Grade One company. To at least one witness, then, there was nothing routine about the brilliance with which Sir Des Champs extended his unbeaten career in the Growise Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown yesterday evening.
In fairness, O'Leary was nearly proved right in his caution when Davy Russell was pitched halfway out of the saddle at the last. But Sir Des Champs found an extra leg from somewhere, and instead it was his nearest pursuer, Mossey Joe, who crashed out – bringing down Frisco Depot and leaving the long odds-on favourite to coast home.
Sir Des Champs had otherwise jumped well in the lead, and betrayed no other sign that his stamina might have been remotely challenged by this first start at three miles or more – despite the very demanding ground. His trainer, Willie Mullins, expressed due relief. "Davy did very well to stay on," he said. "He was doing it nicely, but he was lucky enough to stand up. He's one of the best prospects I've ever had going into his novice season, so hopefully he'll stay sound for next season."
Sizing Europe had earlier confirmed that he is every bit as tough and brave as he is classy when slugging it out for an arduous success from the well-backed Realt Dubh in the Boylesports Champion Chase. Always prominent, he was in front a good way out and plainly all out approaching the last, but staggered home by a couple of lengths. His old rival, Big Zeb, again faded.
Arguably more inconvenienced than the winner by their enforced detour in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, Sizing Europe has been handled with consummate skill by Henry De Bromhead.
"They're finishing tired and with Realt Dubh bearing down on us at the last I was getting a bit nervous," the trainer said. "But in fairness our lad ground it out. Out of that ground he's never going to jump with the same exuberance as on better going, but he went and did the job. He's had an unbelievable season, and though he'll be 11 this time next year he's still very fresh for a horse of his age."
Alderwood completed a rare treble at the spring festivals when adding the first Grade One prize of the meeting, the Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle, to his gains at Fairyhouse and Cheltenham. The game seemed up when the odds-on Trifolium swept by on the home turn to go a couple of lengths clear at the last, but Alderwood rallied under an indomitable ride from Tony McCoy to get back up close home.
"As crazy as it sounds, I think this fellow knows he has won," McCoy said. "I think he has got a lot of confidence from winning races and is improving mentally as much as physically. He keeps responding, loves to jump and has a great will to win."
Tom Mullins, his trainer, intends to switch Alderwood to fences next season. "Anyone that rides him says he'll make a lovely chaser," he said. "I gave him a break after September and the main target was Cheltenham. That came off, so what has happened since is out of this world."
The trainer went on to win a valuable bumper with a debutant, Some Article, while the British got off the mark when Snap Tie gave weight all round in a handicap hurdle – his first start for 921 days and due reward for the tremendous patience of his connections. They reconvene today with Captain Chris in the Punchestown Gold Cup, but he will do well to beat Quel Esprit if over the setback that prompted his late withdrawal at Cheltenham.
A similar frustration was experienced with Most Improved when he was scratched on the morning of the Craven Stakes at Newmarket last Thursday. Having missed his trial, the big ante- post gamble for the season's first Classic will now miss the Qipco 2,000 Guineas itself. Brian Meehan said yesterday that the colt is still undergoing tests to diagnose his lameness.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Ittirad (3.55 Epsom) Belied early promise last season but now gelded. Has build and pedigree to repay following, not least back down to this trip for in-form stable.
Communicator (2.50 Epsom) Another new gelding, also with new stable, and 2lb lower than when unlucky fourth in soft at Royal Ascot.
One to watch
Emilio Largo (Sir Henry Cecil) Shaped well – especially with 7f in mind – on return from long lay-off at Newbury.
Where the money's going
Maybe, hot favourite for the Qipco 1,000 Guineas, is now 5-1 from 6s with Hill's for the Investec Oaks.