The Down Royal Festival has been hailed an outstanding success - despite the clash with Halloween and the Rugby World Cup final.
Superstar steeplechaser Don Cossack - one of many Cheltenham Festival contenders on show - is as short as 5-1 for the Gold Cup in March after romping to victory on sunny Super Saturday in the Festival feature, the £140,000 JNwine.com Champion Chase which was beamed live on Channel 4.
Down Royal General Manager Mike Todd said: "I'm delighted overall with this year's event - Friday was up 1,700 on the day and we held our own on Saturday despite the rugby and the Halloween date which has grown in popularity in recent years.
"The quality of racing was superb and I'm certain many of the horses that ran over the two days will be Cheltenham Festival contenders next March.
"My thanks go to all the local sponsors, the Ulster public and the large numbers of overseas visitors who travelled to our Festival event."
Don Cossack had a stroll in the Champion Chase.
Trainer Gordon Elliott said: "He only had a school around. Bryan (Cooper) said he never came out of second gear but at the same time, he never took hold of the bridle.
"I just thought if Bryan had let him lengthen we would have seen the real horse but all he could do was win.
"I've never been so nervous about a horse. You see him there, he wasn't even doing a stroke. He was just doing what he had to do."
Elliott added: "Kempton (King George VI Chase) or the Lexus (Leopardstown) and the Gold Cup then Punchestown (Gold Cup), if everything is okay. He's a good horse, so we have to mind him. I wouldn't swap him for anything."
The Don joined his brave little stable companion Roi Du Mee four from home after which the result was never in doubt as British challenger Rocky Creek, second last year, was under strong pressure in the last mile.
He only denied Roi Du Mee - winner of the Grade 1 chase in 2013 - by a head with the locally-owned Texas Jack last of the four runners in the feature sponsored by the Down Royal Chairman Jim Nicholson under his JNwine.com title.
Noel Meade, trainer of Texas Jack and who had last year's winner Road To Riches, said of the latter: "I don't really know what the plan will be for him. He's ready to run, but the owners decided to go with the other fellow (Don Cossack). They pay the bills and it's their decision."
An interesting footnote to Saturday's big race win was that Downpatrick trainer Brian Hamilton had been invited by Elliott to see his facilities and stable complex only to find himself giving Don Cossack a canter twice round the all-weather gallop which thrilled the former Ulster Region champion points rider.
So he can now claim he put the finishing touches to the top rated chaser prior to his appearance on Super Saturday!
British champion trainer Paul Nicholls has been a great supporter of the Lisburn course and Ptit Zig won the Grade 2 Powers Novice Chase for the seventh time.
Winning jockey Sam Twiston-Davies said: "It probably wasn't one of my finest rides - we were all gathered up together and I almost panicked a little, kicked him in the belly and he just took off.
"It was great to see him go round like that after how he finished last season (fell in Ascot Grade 1). It's a decent jumping test round here.
"He's won as he pleased. I think you'd look at a race like the King George - obviously he'd need to step up again."
The top rider had a hectic journey to the course due to a delayed flight and regretted not having been able to walk the track.
Elliott won the opener with exciting French import Miss Tata on her debut for the Meath trainer who is considering a mares novice contest at Aintree next for the juvenile.
Elliott completed a Saturday hat-trick with Death Duty in the finale, giving the top trainer a total of five winners during the two-day Festival. Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary matched the tally with Identity Thief having landed the first day feature.
The Belfast-based Hunt family, out of luck at their local festival, gained compensation when the Noel Meade-trained Snow Falcon won the conditions hurdle at Cork yesterday.
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