The La Touche is one of those cross-country oddities, part steeplechase and part obstacle course, which requires its runners to scurry and twist their way across stone walls, stout hedges and, above all, the Punchestown bank, great mounds with deep ditch on either side. On an ordinary park course, Risk Of Thunder is, as his trainer and jockey, Enda Bolger, freely admits, "very, very ordinary" but send him over the banks and he is all but unbeatable. Yesterday he won his third straight La Touche, quite an achievement for an eight-year-old, and the manner of his victory was magnificent to behold.
A big crowd had gathered by the double bank, which the field jumps twice, once in either direction, as the La Touche plots its erratic course across the countryside. They were drawn by the rare opportunity to watch steeplechasers tackling a difficult obstacle at high speed, and Risk Of Thunder did not disappoint.
Second time around, with three miles of toil already behind him, he leapt on to the bank and then off the other side so swiftly and elegantly that if it had been covered with Plasticine, he would not have left a hoofprint.
It was over in a second, but few who were there will ever forget it. Certainly not Bolger, who has been riding the bank course at Punchestown for 15 years. "I've never been on a horse like him around here," he said. "He's so fast and electric, he went over the bank the second time just like it wasn't there. He's a three-stone better horse here than he is anywhere else."
Anywhere else, that is, except another cross-country course, and such was Risk Of Thunder's authority yesterday that there is only one obvious target for him this year, the Velka Pardubicka (the Czech Grand National). "We'll now prepare him just for that," Bolger said. "There's good money, about pounds 30,000 for the winner, and Richard Dunwoody and Norman Williamson have both been round there and they tell me he's the perfect horse for the job."
Risk Of Thunder ran in the colours of Sean Connery, who visited Punchestown on La Touche day 12 months ago and enjoyed it so much that he decided to buy the winner. Also involved in the purchase, as he is with so much on the Irish turf, was J P McManus, who greeted a winner in his own silks when Grimes took the Murphy's Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle. Grimes was backed from 5-1 to 5-2, and McManus, whose money was surely responsible, was never in much danger of leaving the cash behind.
Quaker's Field, a winner at Aintree, was a deeply disappointing British- trained favourite for the race, but the visitors enjoyed better fortune in the Champion Stayers' Hurdle. Paddy's Return, trained by Ferdy Murphy beat David Nicholson's Escartefigue, his first success since the 1995 Triumph Hurdle.
The day, though, belonged to Risk Of Thunder, and the man who rode him unwittingly summed up both the mood and the finances of racegoers after three exhilarating days at Punchestown: "He just loves it here," Bolger said, "he's always looking for a bank."Reuse content