Leopardstown: Michael O’Leary times it right as Conflated benefits from A Plus Tard’s absence

Joseph O’Brien celebrates engagement with Grade 1 success for Home By The Lee

Michael O’Leary’s first time at the races this season saw him in the Grade 1 winners enclosure at Leopardstown after Conflated delivered the Ryanair boss another Savills Chase success.

Proving once again perhaps that it’s better to be both lucky and rich, O’Leary’s rare day at the races coincided with a late injury scare that ruled out the Gold Cup hero A Plus Tard.

The likely big-race favourite banged a joint in transit to Leopardstown forcing trainer Henry De Bromhead to scratch him.

It threw the €175,000 Day 3 festival feature wide open and Conflated stepped up to replicate his surprise 18-1 Irish Gold Cup victory over the course and distance last February.


O’Leary’s downscale of his Gigginstown Stud team means he is an increasingly infrequent racegoer and on Wednesday he described his primary racecourse role these days as “child-minding.” He also said he expects to have just a handful of horses in training in the coming years.

Despite that he continues to be a big big-race player and Conflated was his sixth success in the Christmas festival’s most prestigious steeplechase.

Davy Russell helped transform the eight-year-old last season but his retirement let Jack Kennedy in for the big-race spin.

The season’s leading jockey always looked in control, quickly putting the race to bed after the second last as Conflated went five lengths clear of Kemboy.

It was the highlight of a 100-1 hat-trick for Kennedy and trainer Gordon Elliott who’d earlier landed a pair of handicaps, including with Maxxum who turned the Pertemps Hurdle into a 16-length rout.

“The first couple of days have been kind of tough, but we’ve certainly made up for it today anyway,” said Kennedy who has no doubts about Conflated’s stamina for the Gold Cup test at Cheltenham. “He’d stay the Gold Cup trip, there are no issues with stamina.”

Conflated was cut to 14-1 to get the better of any potential Gold Cup clash with the reigning title holder and even O’Leary’s instincts for Ryanair promotion mightn’t prevent an attempt.

“He ran in the Ryanair last year and is entitled to go for the Gold Cup, so maybe we might bring Fury Road (third on Wednesday) back for the Ryanair,” he said.

Elliott will first target an Irish Gold Cup defence but stressed: “There was a lot of talk last season about which race he would go for in Cheltenham but he’ll definitely be going for the Gold Cup this year.”

On a day his late son Jack was remembered in the Christmas Hurdle title, Henry De Bromhead saddled the first winner in Deep Cave but was left wondering what might have been with A Plus Tard.

“It’s frustrating but he’s banged his joint and we don’t want to risk him,” he said. “The vets are going to dig deeper. He’s moving perfect but just banged his joint and there’s a bit of heat there.”

All the riders in the Jack De Bromhead Christmas Hurdle wore red armbands in memory of the 13-year-old who lost his life in a pony racing crash in September.

Victory for the De Bromhead trained Bob Olinger would have been apt and he was backed down to 7-4 favourite. Once again though Bob Olinger flattered to deceive in fifth behind Home By The Lee.

“He is with us all the time. It’s amazing for us to have all our friends and family here,” Henry De Bromhead said.

It’s been a memorable Christmas already for Home By The Lee’s trainer Joseph O’Brien who got engaged over the festive period.

The 29-year-old former champion jockey, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the training ranks, got engaged to his long-term partner, Tara Armstrong.

Things haven’t gone badly for O’Brien on the track either this week with Home By The Lee securing him another Grade 1.

An unconsidered 28-1 shot when beating six of his opponents in last month’s Lismullen at Navan, plenty seemed too clever to take the form book literally and the O’Brien runner started at 7-1.

He ultimately proved three lengths too good for Ashdale Bob with the 50-1 Meet And Greet in third.

“I was actually worried how well he was travelling through the race because he never does travel well. I thought he was going to waste too much energy travelling and jumping well but he’s a really good stayer,” O’Brien said.

Home By The Lee is now as low as 6-1 to relieve Flooring Porter of the Stayers crown at Cheltenham.

O’Brien has been reducing his National Hunt interests, but this was his third winner over Christmas with Comfort Zone winning at Grade 2 at Chepstow and High Definition scoring on St Stephens Day.

Unlike the previous day’s six-timer, Willie Mullins had to wait until the last to strike as Ile Atlantique justified cramped 4-7 odds over Feronily.

Wednesday’s official Leopardstown attendance was 16,031, slightly down on 2019′s corresponding figure of 16,251.

Mullins suspension

In other Leopardstown news on Wednesday, jockey Danny Mullins got a five-day suspension after finishing fourth on Stayers champion Flooring Porter in the Jack De Bromhead Christmas Hurdle.

Mullins appeared to stop riding in the closing stages when third and was passed just before the line by Meet And Greet.

Mullins told the stewards that Flooring Porter usually hangs to the left but ran straight today until reaching the fifty yard marker where he went a little to the right.

He added that he felt his mount change his stride pattern and eased off to see if he was all right before pushing him to the line when Meet And Greet joined him closer to the finish.

The stewards concluded Mullins was in breach of Rule 212 and also ordered that he forfeit his riding fee.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column