The two and a half mile John Durkan Chase is the feature race on a terrific day’s racing at Punchestown this Sunday .The race has a rich tradition of attracting the country’s top staying chasers, who find that the two and a half mile contest fits neatly into their season’s schedule and acts as a stepping stone to races such as The Lexus ,The Hennessy (Leopardstown) and the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself.
Looking through the list of past winners is to take a stroll through Irish racing’s hall of fame. Captain Christy won it in 1975, ridden by Bobby Coonan. A few short weeks later he returned victorious from Kempton after dishing out a thirty length beating to the dual champion hurdler Bula in the King George. JP McManus will have fond memories of his Jack Of Trumps who completed the double in 78′ and 79.The champion chaser Bobsline took the race in 1984 and 1986 ridden by Frank Berry,now J.P’s racing manager.
1985 was a special year as Dawn Run announced herself as a player in that season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup by sluicing up in the Durkan. She went on to win at Leopardstown later in that same month before suffering a calamatious fall at Cheltenham in her big race trial in January. Jonjo O’Neill took the mount in the Gold Cup where ,in a race never to be forgotten, she mugged Forgive N’ Forget and Wayward Lad on the run up to the finish to spark celebrations the like of which we may never see again.
The 90′s started with a bang when the colossus that was Carvills Hill bludgeoned his rivals into submission to land the Durkan under Ken Morgan. Surely the greatest chaser never to have won a Gold Cup. Imperial Call won it for Ray Hurley in ’98 while Willie Mullins trained his one and only winner of the race, Florida Pearl in 2001. Gold Cup winner Kicking King was successful under Barry Geraghty in 2004 while Paul Nolan’s Joncol ,one of today’s runners,took the prize in 2009.
This year’s race looks as competitive as ever. Joncol , as previously mentioned, was victorious in 2009 and comes here on the back of a highly encouraging seasonal reappearance at Thurles where he beat another of today’s runners Cooldine. Kempes won this year’s Hennessy at Leopardstown and will strip fitter for a recent outing over timber at Mallow. Gordon Elliot’s Roi Du Mee is difficult to evaluate but he did beat the luckless Forpadytheplasterer recently , however the ratings suggest he has it all to do today.
Not matter how many times you look at the race you keep coming back to Rubi Light. Third in the Ryanair earlier this year he was laughing toffee apples at Sizing Europe before it all went ‘Pete Tong’ at Gowran when he fell at the last on his latest start. Trafford Lad looks a big price while last year’s winner Tranquil Sea (race run at Fairyhouse) is a real two and a half mile specialist who will not lack for fitness ,having won the Morris Oil’s at Clonmel a few weeks back.
It’s a must see race this afternoon with a scheduled off time at 2.05. And when you are watching the race unfold,think back to 1985, when Charmaine Hill’s famous black and red colours were carried to victory in this race by that fabulous race mare Dawn Run,who a few short months later, went to complete a historic Champion Hurdle/Gold Cup double ,a feat we may never see repeated again.