Esprit roars to Hennessy victory
Quel Esprit justified strong late market support down to 5-4 favouritism to give Willie Mullins his eighth triumph in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
The grey made virtually all the running to outpoint the opposition in the three-mile feature. China Rock looked a big danger, but his effort had petered out by the final fence and it was left to Roberto Goldback to stage a challenge.
But Ruby Walsh kept Quel Esprit up to his work and the eight-year-old held Roberto Goldback by two lengths, with outsider Treacle staying on stoutly to claim third place from Follow The Plan.
Mullins said: "This has been a lucky race for me. He gallops and jumps all day. Things fell apart for him last year and he disappointed and surprised us when he fell, because he is a good jumper.
"He had a wind operation during the summer and maybe that was the difference. When he was coming under pressure last year in those big races his wind might have been catching him. He galloped all the way to the line today.
"He jumped fantastic, especially over the last four. That was the key to winning the race. He wasn't afraid to ask him for big ones. He didn't let the pace drop at any stage and kept stretching them with his jumping. They went a real good gallop and his jumping won it for him.
"Now he has confidence in his jumping he looks a Grade One horse. He's putting it all together at last. I've been aiming him for the (Cheltenham) Gold Cup all year. He's probably around a 25-1 shot for it, but seldom in your life do you have a horse good enough to compete in that race.
"When you get one you take it and the Gold Cup throws up surprises over the years. I hope I can improve him a bit more between now and then."
Walsh added: "He jumped well, he travelled well. We went a really good gallop and it was a good performance. He was unlucky when he fell in his races last year. When we schooled the novices 18 months ago he was the best jumper.
"He's probably a 160 horse, which leaves him 14lb behind Long Run and Kauto Star. They are in the mid 170s. He has another stone to improve to win a Cheltenham Gold Cup. He's won a Hennessy, so he has to run in the Gold Cup."