Church Island a landmark win in bet365 Gold Cup

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Church Island a landmark win in bet365 Gold Cup

Youth and experience can be a powerful concoction mixed in the right proportions. Adrian Heskin is a jockey barely out of the novice stage but Church Island has been there, seen it, done it and has a wardrobe-full of t-shirts to prove it.

Michael Hourigan is an alchemist of a trainer who put patience and a touch of boldness together with the result being the winner of the bet365 Gold up at Sandown Park. Church Island had finished fourth in the race 12 months ago – just 12 days after finishing second in the Irish Grand National - and Hourigan had set about keeping this fast-ground chaser under raps until the spring weather had taken hold.

A couple of winter-time runs over hurdles was part of plan for the Irish National that had been scuppered by the wet weather in Ireland earlier this month but the elements came made-to-measure at Sandown.

The race always is a true stamina test and Piraya set off as though Johnny Farrelly was late for an important appointment. It was 20 lengths from first to last but, having completed the first circuit, Piraya dropped through the field like a stone, hampering a few others including the well-backed Fairoak Lad.

That left Church Island in front but the opposition was lining up on the home turn. Irish Raptor threatened but his race was run landing over the Pond fence and the run to the last was a heart-warming sight for anyone who creaks out of bed of a morning. Church Island, Hoo La Baloo, Lacdoudal and Monkerhostin – who was almost last at halfway – proving that age does not weary them all as this quartet of veterans, with a collective age of 44, battled out the finish. 

At just 18 and still claiming 7lbs as a balance to inexperience, Heskin, could be forgiven for falling prey to the impetuosity of youth. But he also had five lengths to his advantage and did not waste any of that by pushing his luck. A safe jump at last sealed the victory that he could add to his win at last month’s Cheltenham Festival. 

 “It’s been a brilliant season and Mike has been very good to me – giving me lots of opportunities,” Heskin said. “They went a mad gallop and passing here, with a round to go, I started squeezing the pace along. I had loads left – I couldn’t go fast enough with him. He just galloped and galloped. He’s a tough as nails and he really deserved a big one now.”

Hourigan bore the look of a man who was happy with the win but still thinking of the ones that had got away. “But he probably should have won it last year, really,” he explained. “We were very disappointed last year – he went very quick down the back, but he was staying on.

“It was a serious gallop again. That was my problem because he likes to make the running and I said to Adrian that it’s going to be a blistering pace so don’t be trying to force the pace – he’ll pick it up. I was training him for the Irish National, and the ground went wrong on me, so we debated about entering him here. And it’s expensive to come if you get beat – but we’ve had our day.”

The rest of the day belonged to David Pipe. On the day of this meeting four years ago his father, Martin, had delivered the surprising news that he was retiring. This time the news was that Pipe Jnr had delivered a treble highlighted by I’m So Lucky’s win in the Celebration Chase.

Everyone had become so preoccupied with getting Twist Magic started, after his antics at Punchestown on Tuesday, that no real thought had been given as to whether he could finish. This was mainly because the formbook pointed out that no other horse in the field was capable of beating him without the assistance of the handicapper and at least 18lbs of lead weight, neither of which was available for this race.  

But Twist Magic was in trouble from the third-last and eventually finished third as I’m So Lucky completed a hat-trick of wins on the card that also gave the trainer a century of winners for the season. “It’s lots of hard work by everyone and lots of support from the owners,” Pipe said “and everyone does it for days like today.”

This is the day when jump racing fully yields the spotlight to Flat racing and Paco Boy could well be centre a few times in the summer after his impressive win in the Group Two bet365 Mile while Glass Harmonium fought bravely for Ryan Moore to win the Group Three Gordon Richards Stakes.

Minutes later Moore was dashing off for a flight to Hong Kong, to ride Presvis in the Group One Audemars Piguet QEII Cup at Sha Tin and he might well have passed Heskin.

He was flying high already.



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