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Festival winner tipped for Cheltenham riches

By Jim Gracey

Down Royal has become the first staging post on the road to Cheltenham Festival.

A stableyard full of Cheltenham winners and contenders have galloped on from Down Royal over the past 15 years, most recently Jedzki... a winner at Down Royal last November to victor in the Champion Hurdle in March.

That history, tradition and the connections involved made Road To Riches an appropriate winner of this year's Down Royal Festival big race, the 140,000 euro Grade One JNWines.com Champion Chase.

Owner and Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary also turned out a second race winner in Don Cossack in the Grade Two Powers Whiskey Novice Chase.

Remember the names, because, come next March, these two could be in the Cheltenham frame, reckons Down Royal's Mike Todd who has form of his own for spotting potential on his course. Kauto Star and Sizing Europe, anyone?

Todd keeps raising the bar with the top owners, trainers and horses he attracts to Down Royal Festival each year and he has given himself a hard act to follow for next November with a magnificent offering over Friday and Saturday, the quality racing being matched by the ever improving facilities and race day experience that keep the crowds flocking in, from the serious punters to the event people there to see and be seen.

Over 12,000 clicked through the turnstiles, 4,600 on Friday and 7,500 on Saturday, joined by a million and half more tuning in on At The Races, fantastic and deserved exposure for the Festival and those behind it - Todd and his team and they are good value for it.

From a standing start in 1999, they have made the Down Royal Festival red letter days on the horse racing and social calendar, providing the owners and trainers with a testing ground for their hopefuls and established horses as the build-up to Cheltenham begins, in tandem with a good day out on the other side of the rails.

"We'll never rest on our laurels," Todd assured. "This year's Festival was the ultimate for the standard of racing, results and atmosphere and my thanks to all the sponsors and the public, including the groups from overseas who supported us.

"We were particularly pleased that At The Races chose Down Royal as the base for their racing coverage on Saturday. That gave us invaluable exposure.

"We also featured on the front page of The Racing Post. All of that endorses what we are trying to achieve here and tells us, quite literally, that we are on the right track. Hosting the first Grade One race of the National Hunt season, the JNWines.com chase, also gives us great kudos.

"We've worked hard to convince the key owners and trainers targeting Cheltenham that Down Royal is the place to start and the quality, year on year, shows we are succeeding."

The racing public are also behind them and growing numbers of trippers, lured by spreading word of the entertainment to be had in superbly appointed bar and restaurant facilities.

All that is lacking is Government backing, Down Royal being self-financing and non-profit, and while appreciating the stringency of the times, securing funding that reflects the course's high ground on the economic and sporting landscape is next on Todd's to-do list.

Most of the big racing names were there again on Saturday and the high standards need to be maintained to keep them and the punters coming.

There was money to be made by steering clear of the short-priced favourites on Saturday, nowhere more than in the feature race as Road To Riches led home a procession of more fancied mounts.

Jockey Paul Carberry celebrated with a Frankie Dettori style flying dismount as his 9/2 shot romped home ahead of Paul Nicholls' Rocky Creek and the favourite Boston Bob in a field that also included the much vaunted First Lieutenant.

Carberry (40) was a popular winner, having won the inaugural running of the Festival feature chase in 1999 on Florida Pearl, and he showed he has lost none of his genius in the saddle by keeping it simple and making all the running to win the JNwine.com Champion Chase, confirming Navan trainer Noel Meade's faith in his stable star. This was owner Michael O'Leary's third success in the Down Royal feature in the last four years and his winner immediately attracted a 25/1 quote for next year's Cheltenham Gold Cup.

"That's a long way away - we can but dream," trainer Meade responded, adding that the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown Christmas festival would be next on the agenda for Road To Riches.

Carberry completed a double on the day when cantering home on the Gordon Elliott trained Vasco Du Mee, a half-brother to Roi Du Mee, winner of last year's JNWine.com Champion Chase.

O'Leary's Giigginstown team also took the principal supporting chase - the Grade 2 Powers Irish Whiskey Novice Chase with Don Cossack, as jockey Bryan Cooper again adopted fronting running tactics to score.

The young winning jockey said: "He is an improved horse. It is only now he is getting the credit he deserves."

County Meath trainer Elliott was registering his 71st winner of the season and added: "Bryan gave him a smashing ride - he'll handle better ground and we'll go for something similar up ahead."

Charles O'Brien, son of the legendary M V O'Brien, sent out Stockons Wing with Mark Walsh aboard to win the featured hurdle race in JP Mc Manus' colours.

O'Brien said: "He does not know how to run a bad race and deserved that one, in fairness. I might go to Fairyhouse then Leopardstown at Christmas with him but he could do with a little break as he has been on the go for a long time."

Trainer Jessica Harrington, a regular in the winners enclosure at Down Royal, produced Rock The World with the benefit of a wind operation to win the Tayto Hurdle with Robbie Power in the saddle - the winner owned by Michael Buckley who was at the Breeders Cup at Santa Anita but had to watch his Toast Of New York denied by a nose in the $5 million feature of the meeting.

Newry owner Maurice McCavitt saw his outsider Scooping make all the running to win the opener at 50/1 for trainer Eamon Delany and jockey Conor Maxwell while another local hope just missed out when the Stuart Crawford trained Danielle's Journey, partnered by the Larne trainer's brother, Stephen, was beaten a head in a photo finish to the concluding bumper by Round Tower with John Barry aboard.

The 20/1 winner is now for sale with connections having availed of even moe generous early morning prices.

Bookended by a 50/1 winner in the first and 20/1 in the last, there was total agreement that racegoers had witnessed the one of the best ever day's racing at Down Royal.

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