Irish Eyes: Umpact makes an impact
The star performance in Ireland over the past week goes of course to Flemenstar, whose jumping was simply awesome as he ran out an easy five-length winner against Sir Des Champs in the John Durkan Memorial Chase.
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Sir Des Champs was making his seasonal debut and ran on all the way to the line over a trip that will no doubt prove short of his best in time. He lost absolutely nothing in defeat and it will be fascinating to see if he can get any closer to Flemenstar at Leopardstown over the Christmas in the Lexus Chase, in what promises to be a race to savour with Bob's Worth and Tidal Bay also possible starters. Between them, Flemenstar and SIr Des Champs surely offer Ireland the best chance of winning a Cheltenham Gold Cup since War of Attrition in 2006.
Incidentally, there appears to be a debate about whether or not Flemenstar will stay three miles, but a quick glance at his pedigree suggests that there should be no doubt whatsoever on that score.
He is a full-brother to Barafundle, a classy hurdler who won over further than three miles and from the family of Carvills Hill, who beat Party Politics in the 3m 6f Welsh National by no less than 20 lengths.
Everything about his pedigree screams 'stayer' however, as another of Ireland's favourite chasers, Florida Pearl, found out, the 3m 2 1/2f of the Cheltenham Gold cup trip takes some getting.
I believe he will stay the trip but it could be that his chances of prevailing at Prestbury Park depend upon how he travels over as opposed to whether he stays or not. In the interim, the 9/4 that is available about Flemenstar winning the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on December 28th is worth taking.
Last weekend's Navan card was a showcase for some of Ireland's best young National Hunt prospects and produced any number of Cheltenham Festival clues.
Un Atout gave us a taste of what was to come in winning the opening two-mile maiden hurdle by an unextended four and three-quarter lengths, having made all on his first start over hurdles. Another son of Robin Des Champs, Willie Mullins has already trained three Grade One winners by the Cork-based stallion in Sir Des Champs, Sous Le Cieux and Quevega, and this gelding will be aiming for the top level very soon.
Moscow Mannon, who finished fourth in last season's Cheltenham Bumper, was a good winner of his first hurdle start, making all to beat The Paparazzi Kid whilst over the bigger obstacles, Oscars Well put in a clear round after falling at the second fence on his previous start.
Oscars Well was a very high-class hurdler and has a very similar profile in many ways to his former stablemate Moscow Flyer, who was also a dual winner with one fall to his name from his first three starts over fences, at the same age (seven) and the same stage of his novice chasing career.
Of course Moscow Flyer progressed to win an Arkle and a Champion Chase and it remains to be seen if Oscar's Well has the quite the same engine, but he is certainly a very exciting prospect who is going the right way about emulating his stablemate.
The Westener Boy took advantage of a dismal performance from Noel Meade's Ipsos Du Berlais, a 2/1 shot who looked like he didn't want to know about racing in the beginners' chase.
Colm Murphy's charge ran out a 25-length winner over the Willie Mullins trained 4/6 favourite Marasonnien who was also a shade disappointing. The Westener Boy stays well and jumped for fun so he is one to keep in mind for a race like the Irish Grand National next April.
At Gowran on Thursday we witnessed a couple of taking performances. Mozoltov was deeply impressive in taking the 2m2f maiden hurdle by a whopping 24 lengths. His task was made easier following the withdrawal of Sizing Gold but he could only beat what was there and could not possibly have been more impressive.
Since he was first sighted in bumpers last season, Mozoltov has always looked like he will excel when sent over fences and this remains the case but in the interim, he should prove competitive in Grade One hurdles over a trip, and the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival would seem a logical target.
Tony Martin's Umpact took the eye in beating fellow French import Upazo, trained by Willie Mullins. Well backed in the morning (3/1 into 5/4 joint-fav), Umpact jumped well on his first start over hurdles and it will be interesting to see how he performs when stepped up in grade next time out.