Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle reflections as Andy Dufresne and Captain Guinness serve up a thriller

Henry de Bromhead
Henry de Bromhead

Matt Brocklebank reflects on a pulsating finish to the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown, where the runner-up impressed in defeat.

You know when you've said the wrong thing.

"I'll have some more of that cloudy lemonade please," said I confidently.

"The lemon Tango, sir?"

Head in hands.

I won't be able to return to Punchestown's impeccable hospitality suite without a knowing glance of shame to the kind waiter, but otherwise - following a massive helping hand from the fine people at Lawlor's of Naas Hotel, who managed to source jump leads on a Sunday morning (don't ask) - my short trip to Ireland was a roaring success.

Aside from the tipping, that didn't quite come up to scratch after 11/2 winner Chosen Hour in the opening Sporting Life Beginners Chase, but that didn't take any of the shine off a quality day's race.

The feature Grade Two Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle was billed in certain quarters as a one-horse race. They were wrong.

Andy Dufresne had the tall reputation, an even bigger price tag and the weight of the betting public on his shoulders as the 8/15 favourite, but despite ultimately getting the job done it was the effort of runner-up Captain Guinness which was most noteworthy.

Trained by Henry De Bromhead and ridden by Rachael Blackmore, Captain Guinness was fortunate to win as he did first time out over hurdles, following the late fall of Blackbow, and he was probably a shade unfortunate to come off second best this time.

He took a fierce grip, barely settled the whole way, made a mistake at the last and still battled bravely to go down just three-quarters of a length.

The look on De Bromhead’s face post-race said it all.

While maintaining his typically positive stance, there was a detectable sense of one that got away with the trainer, as Gordon Elliott and Andy Dufresne’s connections took the limelight here on Sunday.

“We would love to have beaten him but there you go,” said De Bromhead.

“The way that he travelled there I don’t see any need to go any further than two miles, I wouldn’t like to be restraining him over two and a half. It’s something we could look at in time when he grows up a bit but not now.

“He’s in the Grade One at Leopardstown (Dublin Racing Festival) but I don’t know, it’s probably getting a bit close.”

As for a potential trip to Cheltenham, it’s hard to argue Captain Guinness hasn’t earned a shot at the big meeting on the back of this improved effort.

"He’s going to Cheltenham is he?” mused the trainer when asked about possible plans for the second week in March.

“Ideally you’d probably want another run before then but whether I would though, I don’t know. I think I’d maybe try and go (straight) there now and take my chance. If we go there that is, we haven’t discussed anything like that with the owners yet.

“At least he’s confirmed his first run, and we’re delighted to have him."

He'd be a welcome addition to any yard and seeing Blackmore wing away from the front around the tight bends of Cheltenham’s Old Course on Captain Guinness in the Sky Bet Supreme is something we should all be looking forward to.

Andy Dufresne, by contrast, might never race over two miles again. Elliott was quick to nominate a step back to two and a half miles as most likely for the winner.

“The inside track was just tight enough for him around here but he galloped all the way to the line and you’d have thought he won’t have any problem going the extended two and a half (at Cheltenham). He stays well.

“It’s just nice to get another winner as this game is all about bubbles getting burst and I’ve had a few burst this weekend."

There was a notable bubble burst in the final race of the card as Willie Mullins' long odds-on favourite Blackbow could manage only fourth to De Bromhead's Le Musigny in the two mile maiden hurdle, but the Mullins-trained Carefully Selected made no mistake as jolly in the Killiney Novice Chase. He still jumps out to his left but as one wise sage in the Punchestown press pack remarked, 'he'll be grand at Cheltenham then'.

Speak Easy took a crushing late fall in the Grade Three event, but thankfully he and Mark Walsh got to their feet after a nervous moment or two. Joseph O'Brien's horse was running a big race and is a name to keep in mind for the spring, ideally after a confidence-building run when we see him out next.

This was a day which was always going to teach us a thing or two, but in the end the main lesson was one we really ought to know by now.

Where Guinness is concerned, it's important to make time for a second.


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