CORAL GOLD CUP 2023

Sunday Times, December 3rd

Glory galloped out of the fog. Without the big screen much of this Coral Gold Cup would have been a mystery tour but by the final fence the 20 runner race had been reduced to a win or bust duel between the Irish raider Mahler Mission and the locally trained Datsalrightgino.

Both horses took it well, both jockeys came past heads down, arms pumping, but on Datsalrightgino 31 year old Gavin Sheehan could feel the power that was taking his career to a new peak.

The Coral Gold Cup is one of the great races in the jumping calendar. It started in 1957 as the Hennessy Gold Cup, the first three runnings were at Cheltenham, the first two winners trained at Lambourn by Fulke Walwyn as was Mill House, who 60 years ago had Arkle back in third.

That was as foggy an afternoon as yesterday and without the benefit of the big screen nobody saw the slip which robbed Arkle of his position at the third last.

The German born Datsalrightgino may not aspire to those heights but Gavin Sheehan and trainer Jamie Snowden are now moving towards the big time which has long looked to be their destination.

Cork Born Sheehan moved to England as an 18 year-old in 2012 and within two seasons was champion conditional. Those early peaks have not been so easy to conquer but last year, as with Snowden, was his best yet. Yet however high he climbs he will never ride a better race than yesterday.  

7 year-old Datsalrightgino is only a second season chaser and the three and a quarter miles of this 19 fence journey was 6 furlongs further than he had ever raced before. His jockey was confident he would last the distance but he wasn’t going to hurry him.

As Ahoy Senor, Shakem Up’Arry, and Cloudy Glen set the early pace Sheehan and Datsalrightgino could be seen cool and unhurried along the rail with barely one behind them. They remained there as Cloudy Glen and Shakem Up’Arry continued to be in control and it was not until the run towards that last turn that Sheehan made his first move.

At that moment Mahler Mission had moved up so menacingly behind the leaders that a voice beside me groaned “oh, no, not another ****ing Irish winner!”.  Mahler’s Mission looked good but Sheehan’s dark blue silks also had a deadliness about them.

There were still four fences to go and several others including Datsalrightgino’s stable companion Ga Law in the argument. But magnificent jumps as the next two took Sheehan within touch of the Irish horse. Level pegging at the last, victory on the run in and time for great rejoicing.

“It’s just unbelievable and great credit to Jamie and the team, this is massive,” said Gavin from the saddle, his dark eyes wide with delight. “He’s getting better and better horses and everything, touch wood, is on the up. The owners are just brilliant and the nicest people you can get. I don’t know what to say, I thought I might start crying if I won this race but I’m absolutely buzzing.”

We can now look forward to next week when both Constitution Hill and the errant Shishkin look to be entered in the re-scheduled Fighting Fifth Hurdle by Snowden’s last mentor Nicky Henderson.

It’s quite a prospect but will be hard to match the after-race glow in yesterday’s winner’s enclosure. A brave horse running the race of his life and adding a new peak in the still rising achievements of jockey and trainer – the beauty of when a plan comes together.

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