Delta Work, favourite before finishing third in last season’s RSA Chase, put himself back in line for a shot at the Gold Cup in March when he got up in a thrilling finish to beat Monalee by a head in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown on Saturday.
A terrific jump at the last from Monalee appeared to have sealed a third Grade One win in as many days for jockey Rachael Blackmore and trainer Henry de Bromhead, but Delta Work emerged from the pack to peg back Monalee a few strides from the line although the runner-up did not go down without a fight. Road To Respect was not far away in third.
Although a respectable fourth, Kemboy, favourite for the Magners Gold Cup in March, suffered the same fate as a number of ante-post Cheltenham favourites at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, including Fakir d’Oudairies and Chacun Pour Soi, by being beaten.
The seven-year-old, who fell at the first at Cheltenham last season before going on to win at Aintree and beat his Gold Cup-winning stable companion Al Boum Photo at Punchestown, moved up on the heels of Monalee on the home turn but he was one among a bunch of seven in with a chance. Presenting Percy, last year’s Gold Cup favourite, was fifth.
Delta Work, a second Grade One on the day for Gordon Elliott after Apple’s Jade took her unbeaten record at Leopardstown to five wins from five starts when making all in the Frank Ward Hurdle, was given a quote of 10-1 for the Gold Cup.
On his reappearance the Gigginstown-owned six-year-old had finished fourth behind Road To Respect and Clan Des Obeaux at Down Royal, but he had clearly come on for the run and the experience.
“We missed a bit of time after Down Royal,” said Elliott, “and thought he’d come on for today’s run. Maybe that’s the way to train him. Jack [Kennedy] is riding out of his skin. He’s had a few hard injuries and it’s great to see him back like this.
“We thought he was a Gold Cup horse and obviously the bubble got burst at Down Royal but we’re not gone yet.”
Meanwhile, at a well-attended Newbury, the Grade One Betway Challow Hurdle was won by 4-6 favourite Thyme Hill but not quite in the manner of an odds-on shot.
He raced a little lazily in last for the first two miles but switched on when Richard Johnson, who was completing a treble on the day to regain the lead in the title race from Brian Hughes, gave him daylight in the home straight. He then lugged left when push came to shove, after the last, before beating The Cashel Man by a length and a half.
“His jumping up until today has been immaculate,” said winning trainer Philip Hobbs. “The mistake he made at the last was the first he’s ever made and the whole thing wasn’t quite as slick as before but it’s a Grade One so I’m not complaining.
“Richard said he was dossing in behind but came right on the bridle when he pulled him out and dossed again when he got to the front. He’s not the biggest, but that won’t stop him being good. Though he’s going to get stronger he’s not the type to be running every week so he’ll probably go straight to Cheltenham now. I’d be worried if he ran again before then and which race [Ballymore or Albert Bartlett] will depend on the going.”
The modern trend is for instant everything, but patience remains a virtue in trainers, particularly when bringing on their nice horses. After looking at Mister Coffey for the first half of this season, even the ultra-patient Nicky Henderson decided he had better run the big four-year-old. He duly won the Betway Introductory Hurdle by a length and three quarters.
“He will be spectacular one day,” said Henderson, saddling his first winner since it was announced he was to receive an OBE in the New Year Honours list.
“We’re in no rush. Lady Bamford said do what you want with him and I was thinking he’d be a nice maiden for next season. I wouldn’t want to do that much with him this season and that is just a small step hopefully in a long and successful career.”