CONFLATED made the best of his way home to ground out a wonderful victory in the Grade 1 Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup, defeating Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo by six and a half lengths, with the well-backed, staying-on Janidil a neck further back in third.
The opening exchanges of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown were dominated by Willie Mullins, who saddled a four-timer comprising three Grade 1s and a Grade 2, but it was Gordon Elliott who claimed the feature for the second time. It was also a second success in the race for jockey Davy Russell, with owners Gigginstown House Stud bagging the spoils on a fourth occasion.
The winner went off an 18/1 shot but he wasn’t without his supporters, having been available at much fancier prices the night before.
Asterion Forlonge went off the 5/2 favourite but could only finish a one-paced fourth, while neither last year’s victor Kemboy nor Frodon were able to land a blow.
As expected, the latter duo made the running, but Kemboy never seemed to get into a good jumping rhythm, possibly inconvenienced by the apparent slow fractions.
They quickly gave way as Russell, who had Conflated in the van throughout, released an inch of rain and got an instant response three out, establishing a sizeable margin as they turned for home.
For a moment, approaching the final obstacle, it looked as if Minella Indo might reel the leader in but Conflated had enough in hand to answer Russell’s urgings and gallop all the way to the line.
“I was between a rock and a hard place what way I’d ride him,” said Russell. “I was going to drop him out. I rode him as a novice hurdler here and I did that and he didn’t get into it, so I just took a chance and bounced him out.
Having claimed the Savills Chase at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival on Galvin, who is also trained by his great friend and long-time point-to-point travelling partner Elliott, it was been a tremendous comeback for Russell from a potentially career-ending injury.
The 42-year-old former champion has won almost everything there is to win in racing but still retained the appetite to return to the saddle last September after an 11-month absence with a broken neck. And it was for days like these.
“I’m really pleased. I couldn’t have done it without all the help that fellas like Gordon showed me, and the confidence that the doctors and surgeon showed me. They never gave me a reason to doubt it.”
Elliott has been on his own journey after his six-month suspension ended the same month Russell made his comeback. Afterwards, he made reference to that process, and his gratitude at being competitive.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Elliott. “He can jump a bit left so we said we’d go down the paint and he had plenty space there.
“He’s got a big engine. I said to Eddie (O’Leary) before the race he’d either win or pull up and thank God he won. He’s a good horse. He was a good novice hurdler. We’ve got the Cheltenham Gold Cup now, the Ryanair, he’s in the Grand National. We’ll have a chat with the whole team so we’ll see what we do.
“It’s a testament to the team we have the way the horses are running. If you told me this time last year I wouldn’t be in Cheltenham, I’d have laughed at you. And if you’d have asked me last September, would I have the team of horses I have now I’d have laughed at you as well. So it’s a testament to the owners, the team I have in the yard and everyone that backs me.”
Mullins has been the pre-eminent figure since the inauguration of the Dublin Racing Festival and he secured the opening three races, starting off with Minella Cocooner (11/1), who benefited from an absolute peach of a ride by red-hot jockey Danny Mullins to score in the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy Solicitors Novice Hurdle by two and three-quarter lengths from another John Nallen product, Minella Crooner.
It was a ninth Grade 1 triumph for the trainer’s nephew since winning at this meeting on Asterion Forlonge two years ago, a period that also included a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a broken neck.
“He’s very slick at his hurdles for a horse that stays well,” noted Mullins Jnr. “All the way down the back he was getting a length or two at each hurdle, which allowed me to fill him up… I knew I would have more for the business end.”