Nearly 30 years of hurt came to an end here yesterday. The Irish may be potently effective at the grand finale at jump racing's spiritual home, the Festival meeting in March, but not since 1980 had one of the friendly raiders taken the season's first valuable pot. Tranquil Sea, trained by Edward O'Grady in Co Tipperary, set the record straight in no uncertain fashion, winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup and its £85,000 first prize by a wide margin. And any hometown loyalties on the part of the gallery were set aside; as a well-backed 11-2 favourite, the seven-year-old was cheered home every stride from the moment his rider, Andrew McNamara, let punters know all was well by looking round for dangers as he rounded the home turn.
It had been apparent even before then that Tranquil Sea was turning a 16-runner handicap into a procession. The gelding galloped smoothly throughout the two-and-a-half miles on testing, softened ground, and once his mud-spattered white face showed in front after the third-last it was there to stay.
"It wasn't really the plan to be in front so soon," said McNamara, "but he was just going so sweetly he took himself there. It's not easy to jump out of ground like that, but he didn't make a mistake the whole way round."
The Grade Three chase is one of the few feature events to have eluded the champion trainer, Paul Nicholls; yesterday 12-1 chance Poquelin tried valiantly for him on ground too soggy but was four-and-a-half lengths adrift.
Tranquil Sea, who now has the Ryanair Chase, the Festival's Grade One over the same intermediate distance, pencilled in, was only the third Irish-trained runner to take yesterday's contest, after Fortria (twice), Skymas and Bright Highway. "They all ended up as brilliant horses," said O'Grady, "and I'd love it if this fella could aspire to the same levels."
As a young hurdler, Tranquil Sea promised much with a Grade One victory at Punchestown in April last year, but an accident almost immediately compromised his upward mobility. "Two days later," said O'Grady, "he was spooked by a pigeon, got loose and crashed over on the concrete in the yard. He had to stay in his box for three months – we thought he'd cracked his shoulder – and he missed his summer at grass. I think because he didn't have the foundation of that break he rather trained off last season. But this year he had his proper holiday, today's race was his target and I couldn't have had him better."
Tranquil Sea may yet fulfil the hopes held for him in March, but today marks the return to action of one who has been there and done that in spades as Master Minded starts his road to matching Badsworth Boy's unique Queen Mother Champion Chase hat-trick in the Connaught Chase. The six-year-old is a horse who daily tests all Nicholls' skills, as he has a muscle- enzyme imbalance that produces frightening cramps if his exercise and eating regimes are not properly balanced.
Nicholls admits that if the gelding, warming up for next month's Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, is to be beaten this term, today will be the day, but hopes that class will out. "He still looks as big as a bullock," he said, "and will tighten up for the run. But he did as good a piece of work on Thursday as I've seen anything do." His galloping companion then was Poquelin.
Master Minded's main rival is perceived as Well Chief, another who is a testament to the front man and back-room team at his yard, in his case that of David Pipe. The frail-limbed 10-year-old has raced just four times in the past three seasons, most recently when beaten seven lengths by Master Minded at the latest Festival. On that occasion they raced at level weights; today the champion gives 10lb to the challenger.
The preceding Independent Newspaper Novices' Chase is an accepted route for rookie chasers to the Arkle Trophy and even greater glory, taken notably by Best Mate and Azertyuiop in recent years. This afternoon's field is small but select; the principals are expected to be Tataniano, the young apple of Nicholls' eye, and Ireland's Fosters Cross, who is seeking a four-timer. Ireland's best two-mile novice, though, Sizing Europe, has stayed at home to strut his stuff five minutes earlier at Punchestown.
Last season's best bumper horse, Dunguib, made it two from two over hurdles on heavy ground at the Co Kildare track yesterday and, weather allowing, another of this afternoon's attractions will be the clash of two of Ireland's Champion Hurdle contenders, Hurricane Fly and Solwhit.Reuse content