Sir Des Champs (left) and Long Run fight out a thrilling finishPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Sir Des Champs lands thrilling Gold Cup
Report: Punchestown, Wednesday
Bet Online With The Tote.com Punchestown Gold Cup (Grade 1) 3m1f, 5yo+
AT THE Cheltenham and Punchestown festivals last year Sir Des Champs announced himself as a serious contender for Gold Cup glory, and, having found only Bobs Worth too good at Cheltenham last month, he was as gallant and game as they come, repelling Long Run and First Lieutenant after the last for victory.
Following his exploits at Punchestown last year Sir Des Champs, then unbeaten since joining Willie Mullins, headed ante-post lists for the 2013 Gold Cup. And after this year's victory he was again cut for Cheltenham glory.
Paddy Power reacted by trimming the two-time Cheltenham Festival winner to 7-1 (from 8) for the 2014 Gold Cup, while Boylesports were unchanged at 6-1 and Coral went 5-1 (from 7). Only Bobs Worth, who was his better by seven lengths this year, is shorter in the betting.
"That was wonderful," said owner Michael O'Leary. "The only concern is this vindicates how good a horse Bobs Worth must be. He beat them all out of sight at Cheltenham."
Davy Russell, ruled out of riding Sir Des Champs at Cheltenham due to a punctured lung, was more optimistic. "He had loads left over the last two fences today," he said.
"His run at Cheltenham was great and he was only beaten in the last 100 yards so I wasn't disappointed with him. I was impressed with the winner, but if that fellow stays at the same level and we improve, then you never know."
Mullins, you sense, is in agreement."That's fantastic," said the trainer. "This, the Hennessy and the Lexus are the top three chases in Ireland and he's won two of them. There's no compensation for not winning the Gold Cup but he ran his heart out at Cheltenham and we'll be back next year.
"I was disappointed that he didn't get to the top of the hill in the Gold Cup and we might adjust things next year. I think we'll change things for the better but I won't be telling what - it might not work!"
Willie Mullins: will try something different with Sir Des ChampsPICTURE: Mark Cranham
It was a much-needed win for the seven-year-old, his 2012/2013 campaign not quite living up to the sky high expectations his performances the previous spring had seen him set.
A second Grade 1 win of the season cemented a strong end to the season, coming on the back of his Gold Cup second. It was a campaign that started slowly, when finishing second in the John Durkan, then fourth in the Lexus before winning the Irish Hennessy.
His second to Bobs Worth confirmed him among the very best staying chasers, but it was hard to escape the conclusion he was out-pointed by a classier animal. Trained to the minute for that race, he displayed a huge amount of guts and determination to win again at Punchestown.
A failure to travel into his races has typified his campaign this season, with Davy Russell regularly hard at work a long way out, yet here he travelled far sweeter.
The gallop set by Sam Waley-Cohen, who led the field like he did at Cheltenham, was far from relentless and the easier pace saw Sir Des Champs jump his way to the front from four out and kick clear of his rivals with an impressive burst of acceleration approaching the home bend.
However he never broke Long Run, who jumped left throughout, and from clinging onto the coat-tails of Sir Des Champs on the turn for home, Long Run jumped the last only half a length down and forced Sir Des Champs to again display his heart for a battle, one attribute that has never been questioned.
The pair were joined by the rallying First Lieutenant - himself a Grade 1 winner at Aintree over 3m on his last start - and they fought out a thrilling finish, all three spread across the track, with three-quarters of a length and half a length separating the trio at the line.