Clarcam bursts Vautour bubble
Clarcam made the most of a serious mistake from hot favourite Vautour to grab Grade One glory in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown.
Vautour was a stunning winner of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at last season's Cheltenham Festival and looked every inch a top-class chasing prospect when comfortably seeing off Clarcam on his debut over fences at Navan last month, so it was no surprise to see him sent off the 1-4 favourite to confirm his superiority.
Clarcam (8-1), who had since opened his own chasing account, took the field along down the back straight, with Vautour shadowing him in the hands of Paul Townend - until the pivotal moment came five fences from home.
Vautour made a shuddering error that left him with his nose on the turf before being picked up by Townend, and Bryan Cooper sensibly took the initiative, sensing an upset was on the cards.
Clarcam quickly opened up a break on the chasing pack and was clear rounding the home turn before winging the final fence to seal his wide-margin victory. Vautour, unable to recover from his mishap, dead-heated for second with Ted Veale.
RaceBets cut Clarcam to 14-1 from 25-1 for the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham in March.
Winning trainer Gordon Elliott said: "It's great for Bryan as this is the horse he broke his leg on at Cheltenham. I know Vautour made mistakes but my horse didn't just win a length or two - he destroyed them.
"We'll look at coming back here for the (Irish) Arkle and see what happens then."
Elliott went on to complete a double as 13-2 shot Space Cadet landed the bumper under Jamie Codd.
Fiscal Focus caused a major upset in the Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle as he put the odds-on Kalkir in his place at odds of 33-1.
Kalkir was unsurprisingly a warm order as the 4-7 favourite for the Grade Two, having made a smooth start to his jumping career in a Grade Three at Fairyhouse last month, propelling him towards the top of the Triumph Hurdle market.
The Mullins runner moved well for much of the journey, but Fiscal Focus was travelling even better as he led rounding the home turn under Mikey Fogarty and he skipped over the last to win by two lengths, with Kalkir unable to make an impression.
The winner was making his jumping bow for Des McDonogh, having previously been trained by Jim Bolger on the Flat.
McDonogh's legendary hurdler Monksfield was actually beaten in the same race early in his brilliant career and the trainer hopes his latest winner could earn himself a trip to the Cheltenham Festival.
The handler said: "It's been a long time since Monksfield ran in this race. He probably had too much Christmas pudding and didn't run too well.
"I've not been to Cheltenham since 1987 and said I wouldn't go back unless I had a runner. I'll have to sit down and talk with Jim (Bolger) before we decide what to do. I've known Jim for many, many years. He's a great friend and he's been very good to me.
"I haven't seen the likes of Monksfield around us for a long time. I'd love to go back to Cheltenham. He jumped great for his first run over hurdles and has beaten one of the favourites for the Triumph Hurdle. I'm still in a bit of shock!
"Good horses are easy to train and he's come from a very good academy. He loves soft ground. He was prepared so well for me to take over and they did get Annie Power out of there, so they know how to do it. We've a lovely horse (Theophilus) tomorrow, too."
Alvisio Ville made a stunning Irish debut for the Mullins team in the Bewleys Hotel Maiden Hurdle.
Third on his only previous start in a French bumper, the JP McManus-owned four-year-old was sent off a heavily supported 1-2 favourite for the opening contest of the four-day Christmas Festival.
Never too far off the pace in the hands of Paul Townend, Alvisio Ville was still hard on the bridle rounding the home turn, while the majority of his rivals toiled.
Townend gave his mount his head on the run to the final flight and he soon asserted, pinging the last to seal a most impressive five-and-a-half-length success.
With the champion trainer at Kempton, his son Patrick said: "He showed there what he's showing at home. He's 17.2 hands and has a huge stride. As they were going faster he jumped better and we think he's very, very good."
RaceBets quote Alvisio Ville at 14-1 for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, having gone 25-1 immediately after the race.