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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

Florida Pearl: legendary chaser who signed off in record-breaking style

Florida Pearl: a four-time Irish Gold Cup winner
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In the final edition of a three-part series on great Irish Gold Cups, reporter Brian Sheerin recalls Florida Pearl's stunning swansong

Florida Pearl, one of Ireland's most successful chasers, brought the house down at Leopardstown in 2004 when he became the only horse to win four Irish Gold Cups at the grand old age of 12.

After announcing himself on the big stage when winning the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival in 1997, Florida Pearl occupied legendary status by the time he notched that fourth Irish Gold Cup win, which turned out to be his last race.

Trained by Willie Mullins, he ran 33 times, winning 16, including nine Grade 1s, and that final showdown with the Leopardstown run-in will live long in the memory.

The Violet O'Leary-owned star won the race from 1999 to 2001 but proved no match for stablemate Alexander Banquet in 2002 before being pulled up the following season.

Off the back of a Grade 3 win at Fairyhouse – his first victory for more than a year and a half – Florida Pearl and Richard Johnson started at 5-1, general fourth choice behind younger rivals Le Coudray, Harbour Pilot and Rince Ri.

Florida Pearl made his way into the lead four out but the key event had yet to take place.

Approaching the second-last, and with Johnson kicking and squeezing in front, Paul Carberry went from sitting pretty aboard Harbour Pilot to being sent crashing to the turf.

That handed Florida Pearl the initiative, and despite being hampered by the loose Harbour Pilot, he showed devilish grit and determination to hang on from 15-8 favourite Le Coudray and win by three lengths.

It was a race that evokes fond memories of a fantastic warrior and one that advertised the brilliance of the soon-to-be-dominant force in Irish racing, Willie Mullins.

Speaking at the time, Mullins said: "That's given me more pleasure than I've ever had in my training career."

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That has given me more pleasure than I have ever had in my training career
E.W. Terms
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