The day Patrick Mullins hailed a 'fantastic taxi' but still won at Cheltenham
Betfair's in-running market has seen some huge sums traded and lost after the impossible somehow became reality. In a new series called Room 1.01, we recall some of racing's most expensive defeats.
This week's subject: Tofino Bay
Willie Mullins had dominated the opening day of the 2013 Cheltenham Festival with a treble. Champagne Fever claimed the Supreme Novices' Hurdle before Hurricane Fly became the first horse in 38 years to regain the Champion Hurdle. The remarkable Quevega sealed the Tuesday haul with her fifth Mares' Hurdle in a row.
Punters hopes were high that the Mullins form would roll on into Wednesday's opening race, the John Oaksey National Hunt Chase. Mullins had won the race twice in the 1980s as a jockey for his father Paddy, although he was still searching for a first win in the race as a trainer and the top-level novice Back In Focus looked to be his best chance of securing the breakthrough.
Back In Focus had impressed in his three starts over fences, taking the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Novice Chase and the Grade 1 Topaz Novice Chase over three miles at Leopardstown on his final run before he stepped up drastically in trip at the festival.
Andrea and Graham Wylie's unbeaten chaser was to be ridden by Patrick Mullins, who had enjoyed success for his father at the festival before in the Champion Bumper with Cousin Vinny (2008) and Champagne Fever (2012). However, Mullins was still chasing a first festival winner over obstacles and had endured bad luck in the race the previous season when the well-fancied Allee Garde fell.
Also enduring recent bad luck in the race was Nina Carberry, who had led at the final fence in the 2010 running aboard Becauseicouldntsee before being outstayed by the Katie Walsh-ridden Poker De Sivola up the hill to finish second. History would repeat itself when Carberry led at the final fence on the Gigginstown-owned Four Commanders in 2012, who went on to finish a tiring third.
Carberry would again don the maroon silks of Gigginstown to ride Tofino Bay, who had finished 27 lengths behind Back In Focus in that Leopardstown race before winning a Grade 2 of his own at Naas.
Trained by Dessie Hughes, Tofino Bay was relatively popular in the betting at 8-1. However, the clear favourite in the race was the classy Back In Focus at 9-4.
Tofino Bay immediately took a prominent position on the outside under Carberry with Mullins keeping close tabs in fourth and little changing during the first 22 fences of the marathon trip.
However, with a group of five breaking away from the rest approaching the third last including the Pauline Robson-trained Rival D'Estruval, who had been making eyecatching progress under Derek O'Connor, Back In Focus made a mistake and had to be ridden along. Tofino Bay still travelled smoothly in the lead.
After Carberry had a brief glance behind her to check for dangers, O'Connor made his move on Rival D'Estruval and they surged into a narrow lead approaching the home straight. However, Tofino Bay responded to Carberry's urgings and jumped the second-last upsides Rival D'Estruval, whose rapid progress was halted with a crashing fall.
Back In Focus inherited second but had six lengths to find as Tofino Bay safely negotiated the 25th and final fence. For the third time in four years, Carberry jumped the last in the lead and this time the lead looked unassailable, with £131 traded at odds of 1.01 on Betfair in running.
However, Back In Focus, galvanised by Mullins, jumped the last well and – accompanied by the roars of favourite backers – began to rapidly eat into the idling Tofino's Bay lead. In the final 100 yards, what had looked implausible became inevitable as Back In Focus took the lead for the first time to score by half a length to break the hearts of in-running punters and Carberry.
The in-running comments
Tracked leading pair, mistake 20th, not fluent 3 out when close up, ridden and outpaced before 2 out where left in 2nd place, 6 lengths down last, stayed on well to lead final 75yds
With leader on outer throughout, led 3 out, joined soon after, kicked on and narrow lead when left clear 2 out, 6 lengths ahead last, tired under pressure flat, headed final 75yds
What they say
Patrick Mullins, rider of Back In Focus
We knew he had a lot of class. He was a horse you were always minding as he had leg trouble and we were always taking a really softly, softly approach with him. It went well early on. We had a bit of daylight and he jumped well in the main. He made one mistake on the last lap and I think I called a fantastic taxi that some photographer got a great picture of so I couldn't hide it!
Coming down the hill, we were going well but then the minute they've gone up a gear after the third-last we're suddenly flat out and I'm thinking we're only gonna finish third or fourth here. He jumped the second-last well and I remember there was a big roar from the crowd when Derek's horse fell and my lad just pricked his ears, and I remember thinking, 'Ooo you've got a little bit left'.
I could see that Nina was a long way clear, which was fine, and we were probably going to be second. Down to the last we got a good stride and I started maybe thinking we could still win this. I just got my head down and I saw a blur of Nina as we went by, then we got a neck up and stopped and I thought maybe she was going to get back at us. But we crossed the line and my memory was that I was so out of breath. I don't think I'd taken a breath from the back of the last. I was too tired to celebrate.
I'd won the Champion Bumper twice before that but to get a winner at Cheltenham over fences, that's a real notch in the belt. He was a favourite and it was the first race on the card that day so all of the crowd were there. It felt different. When you win the Champion Bumper, the last race of the card, some people have gone home. To win the first race on the card is very special because everyone is there and there's that pent up energy as well. It was a very special couple of minutes.
What happened next?
A perfect start to the day for the Mullins team and the Wylies had a fitting finale as Briar Hill took the Champion Bumper at 25-1 under Ruby Walsh to bookend the card.
Meanwhile, Hughes also received some compensation just a couple of days later as Our Conor delivered one of the most devastating performances in Triumph Hurdle history.
Tofino Bay and Back In Focus reopposed a month after their battle up the Cheltenham hill at the Punchestown festival in Grade 1 company.
Although neither could get near the emphatic winner of the Champion Novice Chase, Mount Benbulben, Tofino Bay could take some small consolation in reversing the form finishing in second with Back In Focus a well-beaten favourite in fourth.
Read more from this series:
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