There was high drama in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle here on Wednesday as three key contenders crashed out in the late stages of one of the most extraordinary Grade One races for many years.
Whiskey Sour, from the Willie Mullins stable, was the eventual winner of the €50,000 first prize. But his success seemed like a footnote as he was led into the winner’s enclosure after a race in which three horses had looked likely to win with two flights to jump – but all failed to finish.
Mengli Khan, Gordon Elliot’s even-money favourite, was in the lead and going well on the run to the second-last, but veered suddenly to his left and crashed out through the wing. That left two of Mullins’s four runners in the race – Sharjah and Real Steel – to battle it out as they approached the final flight many lengths in front of Whiskey Sour.
Both horses then suffered almost identical diving falls as they jumped the last with scarcely a short-head between them. Their stable companion Whiskey Sour, a 299-1 chance in-running on Betfair moments before, crossed the line as the very fortunate 19-length winner a few seconds later. David Mullins, the winner’s jockey, emerged from the organised chaos of the Grand National as the winner in 2016 aboard the 33-1 chance Rule The World, but that outcome was thoroughly predictable by comparison.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Willie Mullins said. “I was just waiting for them to bring down our third runner, which would have really capped off the day, but it just shows you’ve got to be in these races. Whiskey Sour was definitely the fourth [string] of ours coming into this and he’s ended up winning it. It’s a lucky win, end of story. It was an extraordinary race, and I don’t know what to take from it.”
The feature Grade One two-mile chase earlier on the card was also memorable but for the wrong reasons as far as Mullins and backers of his runner Min, the 2-7 favourite, were concerned.
Min jumped the last in front but Simply Ned, a 16-1 chance from the Nicky Richards stable in Cumbria, launched a strong challenge on his inside, tight against the far rail. Paul Townend, Min’s jockey, had his whip in his right hand and as a result Min was leaning in to Simply Ned for much of the final furlong, at one point forcing him to clip the running rail.
The stewards spent nearly a quarter of an hour studying the head-on footage before deciding that the placings should be reversed, making Simply Ned the winner on his fourth start in the race.
Simply Ned finished third behind Mullins’s outstanding two-miler Douvan 12 months ago, with Sizing John, the subsequent Gold Cup winner, not far in front of him in second, so his success was not a complete shock.
Min, meanwhile, was not expected to run in Wednesday’s race until Douvan was ruled out 10 days ago, but this was a disappointing run even before the stewards stepped in, and a reminder that that there is no substitute for a horse like Douvan.
When, where – or if – Douvan will reappear this season is still unclear, and Altior, last year’s brilliant Arkle Trophy winner, is recovering from a wind operation and likely to head to the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham without a prep run.
Min remains prominent in the ante-post betting for the Champion Chase despite Wednesday’s setback, but Politologue has now emerged as a serious contender too. Paul Nicholls’s grey is no bigger than 9-2 for Cheltenham after winning the Grade Two Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton on Wednesday, a race in which Special Tiara, who was last year’s Champion Chase winner, emerged unscathed from the first fall of his career.
Sizing John and Yorkhill, the favourite and third-favourite respectively for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, are due to line up for the Grade One Leopardstown Christmas Chase on Thursday afternoon, but the meeting is subject to a precautionary inspection at 7.30am with a severe frost forecast overnight.
The Welsh Grand National will be staged at Chepstow on 6 January after persistent rain forced the card’s abandonment on Wednesday.
Thursday’s tips, by Greg Wood
11.40 Bertie Moon 12.10 The Special One (nb) 12.45 Captain Pugwash 1.15 Zalshah 1.45 Island Brave (nap) 2.20 Deliberator 2.55 Corazon Espinado 3.30 Hamish Mcgonagain
12.30 Teescomponents Lad 1.05 Mr Witmore 1.35 Mr Mafia 2.05 Lake Field 2.40 Red Danaher 3.15 Triopas
12.55 Myroundorurs 1.25 Criq Rock 1.55 Bekkensfirth 2.30 Arthington 3.05 Three Ways 3.40 Catchin Time