Colin Tizzard and Robbie Power rounded off a memorable season by landing Punchestown’s Champion Chase with Fox Norton, who powered past the long-time leader Un De Sceaux after the final fence on Tuesday. The result is a major setback for Willie Mullins in his attempt to claw his way back to the top of the Irish trainers standings before the season ends on Saturday.
Mullins’s Un De Sceaux was sent off as the odds-on favourite to follow up his Ryanair victory at the Cheltenham Festival and he could still be called the most likely winner when edging clear on the run to the home turn.
But Fox Norton moved up menacingly soon after and produced much the stronger finish to score by a length and three-quarters with God’s Own, last year’s winner, in third.
The 35-year-old Power, who recently became the retained rider for the winning owner, Alan Potts, is having an extraordinary year, his big-race haul also including the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Irish Gold Cup and the Irish Grand National. For the Dorset-based Tizzard, this was a first taste of Grade One success in Ireland.
“He’s just become a very good horse, hasn’t he?” Tizzard enthused of Fox Norton, beaten a head by Special Tiara in the Queen Mother Champion Chase last month. The trainer was inclined to keep his options open regarding Fox Norton’s optimum distance for next season but Power emphatically pointed the way to the Ryanair, insisting his mount now needs further than this bare two miles.
Mullins sent out Cilaos Emery and Melon to be first and second in the Champion Novice Hurdle on the card after Labaik refused to start, as has been his wont in Ireland. But defeat for Un De Sceaux cost him €100,000 in prize money and leaves him almost €300,000 adrift of Gordon Elliott with time running out.
Meanwhile, James Doyle will have two excellent chances of a first British Classic victory next week following the news that he will ride Fair Eva in the Qipco 1,000 Guineas. Doyle will be on Barney Roy in the 2,000 Guineas and, since both horses feature in the top three in betting lists for the Newmarket races, the 29-year-old jockey can hope for a big start to a season that promised little just 10 days ago when he returned from a winter’s riding in Australia.
While Doyle is still retained by Godolphin, he lost the support of one of their trainers, Saeed bin Suroor, last year and no longer rides for him. “With Saeed choosing to use his own jockeys, I was obviously questioning what there would be for me,” Doyle said on Tuesday at a pre-Guineas media event. “Saeed’s made a really strong start to the year and it’s frustrating not to be part of that but it’s his decision.
“From not quite knowing what I’d be picking up to suddenly having two plum rides in both Guineas, it’s very exciting.” Godolphin have evidently decided to use Doyle on most of their horses not trained by Bin Suroor or Charlie Appleby, who relies on William Buick.
Fortunately for Doyle, that includes Barney Roy, based with Richard Hannon and an impressive winner of the Greenham at Newbury last weekend.Having been a 33-1 shot for the 2,000 Guineas just a week ago, Barney Roy is no bigger than 11-2 and Doyle expects him to improve on his Greenham effort, when the colt indulged in some “midrace sleepiness” on just the second start of his career. “I was a little bit worried at halfway when the race started to develop, he got a bit lost,” Doyle recalled.
But Barney Roy responded well when asked to pull clear of Dream Castle, the Bin Suroor-trained favourite. “There was definitely a bit of brilliance about it and he’s crying out for the extra furlong next week. I think he’ll be much sharper, come Guineas day. He’ll jump more alertly and travel more strongly.”
If Doyle is able to win the 2,000 a week on Saturday, that would help him move on from the memory of Kingman’s second place in the 2014 race, the only defeat that horse ever suffered. “How he got beat, I’m still trying to work that out,” Doyle said with a shake of the head. The 40-1 shot who got up close home that day was trained by Hannon, so a kind of justice will be served if the Wiltshire trainer were now to provide Doyle with a moment of Classic glory.
Fair Eva carries the Kingman colours of Khalid Abdullah, adding significance to Doyle’s booking in the 1,000. He has a longstanding association with the filly’s trainer, Roger Charlton, who spoke positively of the physical progress she has made over the winter. “She has a very good temperament and, if anything, it’s a job to get the weight off her rather than put it on her,” Charlton said.
Catterick: 1.50 Culloden 2.20 A Bit Of Ginger 2.55 Castle Hill Cassie 3.25 Star Glitter 4.00 Hot Hannah 4.35 Madroos 5.05 Olympic Duel
Perth: 2.00 Royal Village 2.35 Catchthemoonlight 3.05 Robin’Hannon 3.35 Ballykan 4.10 The Wise One 4.40 Petite Power 5.10 Idder
Epsom: 2.10 Lathom 2.45 Cracksman 3.15 Galapiat (nap) 3.50 Banditry 4.25 Leader’s Legacy 5.00 Masterofdiscovery (nb)
Lingfield: 4.45 Sans Souci Bay 5.20 Casimiro 5.50 Termsnconditions 6.25 Wordsearch 6.55 Chestnut Fire 7.25 Tai Hang Dragon 7.55 Henry Grace
Exeter: 4.50 Glimpse Of Gold 5.25 Stealing Mix 6.00 Markov 6.35 Boss In Boots 7.05 Wonga Swinger 7.40 Sword Of Fate 8.10 Take Em Out