Sir Des Champs gets the better of Flemenstar in the Hennessy Gold CupPICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos)
Sir Des Champs wins tremendous Cup tussle
Report: Leopardstown, Saturday
Hennessy Gold Cup (Grade 1) 3m, 5yo+
The two esteemed chasing rivals had played cat and mouse throughout the contest with Andrew Lynch on 4-5 favourite Flemenstar shadowing Russell's every move in seeking a third straight verdict over Sir Des Champs.
Lynch's tactics, kept a closely guarded secret until the race began, looked spot on as Flemenstar travelled sweetly and jumped cleanly, and even flamboyantly at the fourth-last fence as the front-running Quel Esprit began to tire.
With three to jump Sir Des Champs jumped to the lead only for Flemenstar to take his measure with a huge effort at the next fence. Even then, Lynch's instinct was to rein back on Flemenstar and allow Russell to pump away vigorously and, in theory, give him a lead to the last.
Come the final fence, however, and Lynch was beginning to show distress signals.
Russell's mount was quicker away from the fence and all those doubts over whether Flemenstar would last the three miles looked borne out as he struggled in vain to reel in his rival.
Sir Des Champs stayed on resolutely to win the Hennessy at odds of 11-8 and in so doing secure a ninth triumph in the race for trainer Willie Mullins.
Mullins said: "Davy did the right thing injecting pace when going to join Quel Esprit four out. He knew Flemenstar was going well behind him and wanted to make it a real staying test.
"The ground wasn't as bad as it was for the Lexus and because of that Sir Des Champs jumped a lot better. Even better ground again at Cheltenham would suit him well."
BetVictor trimmed the winner a point to 4-1 for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup while leaving Flemenstar's price unchanged for his three possible Cheltenham Festival targets.
Yet Peter Casey, who trains Flemenstar, seemed to have made up his mind about one of them.
"He had every chance and was out-stayed," he said.
"There'll be no Gold Cup for him and we'll have to decide whether he goes for the Champion Chase or the Ryanair."