The Irish Gold Cup is a Grade 1 National Hunt chase in Ireland which is open to horses aged five years or older.

Since its inception, it has developed into one of the major high-class races of the season for Ireland’s top three mile chasers, although the early renewals were dominated by British-trained horses.

It is run at Leopardstown over a distance of about three miles and during its running there are seventeen fences to be jumped. The race is scheduled to take place each year in February. The event was first run in 1987, and it was originally titled the Vincent O’Brien Irish Gold Cup. It was named after Vincent O’Brien (1917–2009), who was a successful racehorse trainer.

The race was renamed the Hennessy Gold Cup in 1991, when Hennessy began sponsoring and it was often referred to as the “Irish Hennessy”, as there is also a long-established chase in Great Britain called the Hennessy Gold Cup.

Hennessy’s sponsorship ended after the 2015 running and the 2016 event was run as the unsponsored Irish Gold Cup.

Throughout its history the race has served as a leading trial for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Two horses have won both events in the same year – Jodami (1993) and Imperial Call (1996).

Forgive ‘N Forget winning in 1987

From the outset, the race was laden with quality and the very first renewal was won by 1985 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Forgive ‘n Forget, who beat a field dominated by English challengers, including Cybrandian and Very Promising, whilst the Irish defence was headed up by the talented Bobsline and the 14 year old Royal Bond, while Omerta would win two Grand Nationals.

In 1988 Forgive ‘n Forget returned to attempt to defend his crown, but the race went to another English-trained horse ridden by a future training star.

That horse was Playschool, who had won the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury and then followed-up with victory in the Welsh Grand National. At Leopardstown, he and Paul Nicholls galloped Forgive ‘n Forget into the ground, but had to survive a calamitous last fence mistake which saw Playschool almost on the floor.

However, the pair survived and went on to win the race impressively, with the former champion second, ahead of the now 15 year old Royal Bond in third.

At last there was an Irish-trained winner on the trophy in 1989 in the form of a very special horse, Carvill’s Hill.

This time around, Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Charter Party represented Britain, while Carvill’s Hill was an exciting up and coming horse from the Jim Dreaper stable. Also in the field were that brilliant mare Maid Of Money, the smart grey Weather The Storm and the Irish Grand National winner Brittany Boy.

Throughout his career, Carvill’s Hill was tarnished with the reputation of being a suspect jumper, however, in this race he was the beneficiary of his rivals’ mistakes as racing down the back straight on the final circuit, Maid Of Money, disputing the lead with the youngster, hit the deck and was followed by Charter Party and Super Furrow.

That left Carvill’s Hill in front, chased home by Weather The Storm, but with enough in hand to land his first Gold Cup. At Cheltenham Carvill’s Hill took a heavy fall in Desert Orchid’s famous Gold Cup and he was plagued with injuries thereafter.

The following year Carvill’s Hill was expected to win his second Irish Gold Cup, with Maid Of Money back for another crack. The English challenge featured Nick The Brief and Panto Price, who had famously finished a narrow second to Desert Orchid in the previous year’s Victor Chandler Chase, but was stepping up in distance.

Carvill’s Hill turned for home in front of Nick The Brief , but at the second last, the English raider went on under Martin Lynch.

Heading to the final fence, Nick The Brief held a narrow lead over Carvill’s Hill and the staying on Maid Of Money.

But Nick The Brief jumped the fence best of all and strode on to an impressive and slightly surprising victory.

Sadly injury prevented Carvill’s Hill from lining up in 1991, but Nick The Brief was back again, with the shock Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Norton’s Coin, who had won at Cheltenham at odds of 100/1.

A weaker than usual Irish team was headed up by the exciting and progressive Cahervillahow, racing in the famous pink with red heart coloured silks of Mrs Miles Valentine.

At the seventh fence, in front of the stands, Nick The Brief led, but Cahervillahow and Charlie Swan took a heavy fall.

Four from home and Nick The Brief began to really turn the screw on his rivals and Norton’s Coin dropped away and refused at the next. Cloughtaney fell two out and Nick The Brief was left with just Roc De Prince as a challenger.

A good jump at the last fence sealed victory for Robbie Supple and Nick The Brief but Roc De Prince met with a horrible fall, leaving Olan Lad, a tailed off second. That win made Nick The Brief the first horse to win the race twice after a dramatic renewal.

The brilliant Carvill’s Hill

The 1991/92 jumps season was dominated by one horse, who had spent a long time on the sidelines and had found his way to that veritable winning factory in Somerset, Pond House, home of multiple Champion Trainer Martin Pipe.

That horse was the rejuvenated Carvill’s Hill, who had fallen at Gowran Park, on his final start whilst trained in Ireland, in January 1991.

He was not seen out again until the following November, when he was a brilliant winner of the Rehearsal Chase at Chepstow, on his debut for Pipe, having undertaken extensive schooling to try to change his jumping action.

Far better was to follow in the Welsh Grand National the following month, as under 11 stone 12 pounds, he slaughtered his rivals with a staggering front-running performance, annihilating horses of the calibre of twice-winner Bonanza Boy, Cheltenham Festival winners The West Awake, Kildimo and Aquilifer, future Gold Cup winner Cool Ground, future Grand National winner Party Politics and smart performers Zeta’s Lad and Twin Oaks, by 20 lengths.

It was a performance that still resonates over a quarter of a century later and immediately cast Carvill’s Hill as the likely Cheltenham Gold Cup winner of 1992.

Before then however, was the small matter of a return trip to Leopardstown, for the Hennessy Gold Cup.

Proceedings did not get off to a great start, as the horse banged his head on the flight over to Ireland earlier in the day. He was soon dictating matters at the head of affairs in the race, although he made a dreadful blunder at the third fence.

Having survived that error, Carvill’s Hill dominated his inferior rivals, powering to his second victory in the race by 15 lengths from Garamycin.

Sadly the infamous events of the 1992 Cheltenham Gold Cup saw Carvill’s Hill nearly on the floor and he picked up what proved to be career-ending injuries, arguably the greatest horse never to win a Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Photo Healy Racing.

But with the would-be Champion off the track, a new rising star travelled across the Irish Sea in early 1993, another horse who would make his mark and capture the hearts of the British and Irish public alike; Jodami.

Peter Beaumont’s bay gelding had been a smart novice chaser the season before and after running second to Sibton Abbey in the English Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup in November 1992, had regained the winning thread with victories in the Mandarin Chase at Newbury and the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock Park.

The Irish Hennessy Gold Cup was set to truly test the Gold Cup credentials of the eight year old, with the Pipe team fielding Chatam and Cahervillahow and General Idea forming the strongest part of the home guard.

The Committee took the field along but the field bunched up behind him at the fourth from home, with Jodami travelling powerfully to the outside under Mark Dwyer.

Chatam pressed on after the second last, but Jodami’s class saw him cruising in behind. The pair jumped the last fence together and it appeared likely that Jodami would draw clear.

However, Chatam battled back tenaciously to the inside and the pair flashed past the post together, in the closest finish in the race’s history.

After a photograph finish Jodami was called the narrow winner.

It was perhaps not visually the performance of a Gold Cup winner in waiting, but Jodami found more at Cheltenham in March, to become the first winner of the Irish and Cheltenham Gold Cups in the same season.

In 1994, both Jodami and Chatam were back for the big rematch and were joined by the latest Irish hope Flashing Steel, the exciting young chaser Deep Bramble and Cahervillahow.

This time around Chatam was not in the same form and approaching the second last fence, the race lay between Jodami and Flashing Steel, with the former travelling much the better to the inside.

Flashing Steel knuckled over on landing, leaving Jodami clear to saunter to his second win in the race, beating Deep Bramble by seven lengths. The following month Jodami went close to winning his second Cheltenham Gold Cup, running 1 ½ lengths second to The Fellow.

Jodami and Chatam were back again for the third successive year in 1995, but ageing and up against Ireland’s up and coming star Merry Gale and the classy Second Schedual.

Merry Gale led down the back straight for the final time, with Nuaffe close on his heels and then Jodami.
Heading to the second last fence, Merry Gale was still in front of Nuaffe, with Mark Dwyer becoming more animated on Jodami.

Merry Gale jumped the fence slowly and Nuaffe was chased up into the lead, with Jodami on the outside, under strong pressure.

However, the class of his two rivals told on Nuaffe and on the final bend, Merry Gale and Jodami roared past him, to settle down and fight out the finish.

The two landed together over the last fence and Merry Gale edged into a narrow lead on the flat.

But on that punishing run-in, the streetwise veteran Jodami, still full of determination, stuck his head down dourly and wore his rival down in the final hundred yards for an emotional third consecutive victory in the race, at the age of ten.

Jodami was not there in 1996, but the present Gold Cup winner Master Oats lined up along with Monsieur Le Cure and old favourites Flashing Steel and Nuaffe.

Also in the line-up was the exciting and progressive young chaser of Fergie Sutherland’s, Imperial Call. He had fallen in the Punchestown Chase in November, but had recently got back to winnings ways with success in the McCain Handicap Chase at Leopardstown in mid-January.

The 7 year old Imperial Call showed them all a clean pair of heels down the back straight, taking the fifth last from Life Of A Lord, Monsieur Le Cure and Master Oats, this quartet clear of the rest.

Life Of A Lord soon dropped back and Imperial Call was left with two English challengers to repel.

Master Oats crept closer to the inside, but racing to the second last fence, Conor O’Dwyer afforded himself a look around on Imperial Call, still travelling sweetly. Racing to the home turn, the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup winner came under pressure as Imperial Call extended his advantage, without coming under pressure.

Imperial Call approached the last fence with a three length lead over the two English runners, but hit it hard.

However, the mistake did not stop the young horse’s momentum and he danced away to an impressive six lengths victory over Master Oats. It was a performance that put Imperial Call into the Cheltenham Gold Cup reckoning and he duly went to Cheltenham in March and beat subsequent Grand National winner Rough Quest, to gift Ireland a first victory in the blue riband event in ten years, since Dawn Run.

The 1997 Hennessy Gold Cup was to anyone who was there, an unforgettable experience. Earlier on the card, Doran’s Pride had beaten See More Business in the big novice chase, while future triple Champion Hurdle winner Istabraq had won the Deloitte Novice Hurdle.

The Irish Hennessy promised to be a great showdown, with veteran Jodami, now a 12 year old, taking on Imperial Call, the progressive grey gelding The Grey Monk, Merry Gale and Scottish Grand National winner Belmont King.

There was also the added intrigue of Danoli, Ireland’s sweetheart, who had been a brilliant hurdler but had suffered a bad injury. The 9 year old had recovered from his leg trouble but had a mixed record over fences, winning three times and falling twice in his five starts prior to the Hennessy.

An epic renewal saw Merry Gale and Danoli take the field along in the early stages from The Grey Monk.
Danoli had taken the lead from The Grey Monk, as the field passed the stands to a huge roar, with a circuit to race.

Seven fences from home, The Grey Monk held a narrow lead from Danoli, with Merry Gale and Imperial racing out wide next, and then a gap to a seemingly struggling Jodami.

Six out and The Grey Monk took a crashing fall, leaving Danoli in front. Imperial Call came to join Danoli and the Irish pair duelled down the back straight, with a wide gap back to Jodami.

At the second last fence, Danoli landed marginally ahead of Imperial Call, and began to pour it on, turning for home, clear, as he had been so many times over hurdles.

The crowd became louder and animated as their hero raced to the final fence, now chased by the staying on veteran Jodami, bidding for a remarkable fourth win in the race.

Danoli took the last with a couple of lengths advantage over Jodami and the pair, two honest racehorses, ran true all the way to the line, with Tom Treacy and Danoli holding on for an emotional, stunning victory.

Danoli sadly suffered more injury and missed the 1998 Irish Hennessy, while Imperial Call was a shadow of his former self.

That left the way clear for the latest star from the Irish scene, Dorans Pride. The Michael Hourigan trained 9 year old had won the champion Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in 1995 and the following year proved a smart novice chaser, taking his chance in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and running a highly respectable third to Mr Mulligan and Barton Bank.

Up against Dorans Pride, Merry Gale was back in action, while the primary challenge from England came from Go Ballistic.

Hermes Harvest and Imperial Call took the field along through the first circuit but Dun Belle took it up racing down the back straight for the final time, but the field was separated by less than five lengths at the sixth fence from the finish.

Turning towards the second last fence, the mare Dun Belle was still in front, but being pursued by Dorans Pride and Imperial Call.

Dun Belle landed in front of Dorans Pride but Imperial Call quickly faded.

Dorans Pride and Richard Dunwoody loomed alongside the mare approaching the last fence and stormed clear on the run-in, to win by 15 lengths.

Dorans Pride again filled third place in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, behind Cool Dawn. Whilst that 1998 Cheltenham Festival also saw the next Irish superstar emerge in the shape of Florida Pearl.

Florida Pearl

The Willie Mullins trained Florida Pearl had been unbeaten in bumper races the previous year and proved much the best in what was billed an exciting match-up with the English trained novice chaser Escartefigue, on only his third chase start, in the Royal & Sun Alliance Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Florida Pearl entered the 1998/99 season unbeaten in six races, but fell on his return in the Ericsson Chase, a race won by Dorans Pride.

Dorans Pride was absent from the 1999 Hennessy Gold Cup, but Florida Pearl faced stern opposition, with Escartefigue in the line-up along with the smart British gelding Addington Boy and future Grand National winner Papillon among their rivals.

Boss Doyle and Papillon were the early leaders but the former dropped away with a circuit to run and it was Bob Treacy who duelled with Papillon.

Four from home and Bob Treacy and Papillon still led, but Escartefigue and Florida Pearl had closed noticeably.

Florida Pearl was upsides the leaders three out and safely negotiated his bogey fence. As the long time leaders faded, Florida Pearl jumped two out with old foe Escartefigue looking the danger.

But Florida Pearl increased his advantage heading to the last and a good jump sealed victory and he passed the post with a 2 length victory over Escartefigue.

Florida Pearl was somewhat disappointing in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, running third to See More Business and Go Ballistic, with the hint that he perhaps didn’t quite see out the trip. However, history dictated that his glittering career was really only just getting going.

Florida Pearl beat Dorans Pride at Down Royal the following autumn, but for the second Christmas running, met with defeat in the Ericsson Chase, when Rince Ri beat him. Mulling decided to give Florida Pearl another run at Leopardstown in January 2000, before he returned to the Hennessy the following month.

In 2000 there were no British runners, but a fascinating race was in prospect, underlining the burgeoning strength of Irish Racing’s resurgence. Dorans Pride and Rince Ri were both there along with the promising His Song, while Danoli, seen out just once since the 1997 Cheltenham Gold Cup in which he had fallen, was also in the field.

Bob Treacy and Danoli took the field along in the early stages, before Florida Pearl went on entering the back straight for the final time.

Six fences out and Bob Treacy had edged back into the lead but all eight horses were closely packed.

Four from home and Bob Treacy had faded, leaving Florida Pearl back in front and chased by Dorans Pride, His Song and Rince Ri, while Danoli had made errors and dropped back.

Racing to the second last Florida Pearl still had the call from Dorans Pride and this pair had forged a gap back to Rince Ri.

The two previous winners were set to fight out the finish but it was Florida Pearl who extended his advantage and powered clear off the home bend. A good jump at the last sealed a most impressive victory for Florida Pearl under Paul Carberry, reaffirming his position as the leading Gold Cup contender from Ireland.

Once again though, Florida Pearl came up a little short at Cheltenham, finishing second to Looks Like Trouble in March.

The following winter, Florida Pearl’s usually prolific winning profile was broken as he suffered a series of reversals, notably when running 10 lengths second to the exciting French horse First Gold, in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park, with Mullins preferring to travel than go back to the Ericsson Chase.

So for the third year running, he headed to the Hennessy off the back of a defeat. Dorans Pride was back again, while Commanche Court the Irish Grand National winner was in opposition along with Florida Pearl’s stable mate Alexander Banquet.

Also in an all-Irish field was the exciting Native Upmanship, an outstanding horse up to 2 ¾ miles, but one with stamina doubts, while Nick Dundee had looked a future Champion as a novice chaser, before incurring a nasty injury at Cheltenham in 1999. He had returned to action and run well in the winter of 2000.

On a freezing cold afternoon, Nick Dundee took the field along in the early stages with Alexander Banquet and Florida Pearl in close order. However, at the fifth fence, the second open ditch, the leader failed to take off and crashed out, thankfully getting up OK.

That left the two Willie Mullins horses in front of Dorans Pride and Commanche Court, with a circuit to race.
Florida Pearl and Richard Johnson moved to the front approaching the 11th fence and were still there five from home, as Dorans Pride ranged up to his outside.

Racing to the third last Florida Pearl’s class came to the fore as he put distance between himself and Dorans Pride and he jumped the second from home clear and travelling best, as Alexander Banquet reclaimed second from Dorans Pride, these three miles clear of Native Upmanship who all but fell.

Turning for home, Johnson was looking around for dangers as Florida Pearl cruised to the last with his two pursuers under strong pressure and making no impression.

The 9 year old cleared the last well and was kept up to his work and whilst Alexander Banquet closed late on, there was still two lengths between the pair at the line, as Florida Pearl became the second horse to win the race three times.

There was no Cheltenham Festival in 2001 on account of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. The following winter Florida Pearl came back to his very best with victory at Punchestown and a memorable success in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park, when he beat the brilliant Best Mate by ¾ of a length.

So Florida Pearl made his bid for a fourth Hennessy Gold Cup in the form of his life in 2002.

Alexander Banquet was back in opposition, along with old rival Rince Ri, while the previous year’s leading novice chaser Sackville took his chance and the field was completed by the giant English horse Behrajan.

Rince Ri took the field along from Sackville, with Behrajan and Alexander Banquet next, as Florida Pearl sat last of the quintet.

Sackville went on four from home but Rince Ri fought back to the inside, while all the time Alexander Banquet crept closer to the outside.

Rince Ri took the third last in front and headed to two out narrowly ahead of Alexander Banquet, with Florida Pearl moving into third.

Turning for home, the front three formed a line, with Florida Pearl seemingly travelling the best of the trio. However, his run petered out approaching the last and it was Alexander Banquet who asserted from Rince Ri.

In a punishing finish, Alexander Banquet saw off Rince Ri, but Behrajan began to stay on from miles back. Barry Geraghty was all-out to hold on but Alexander Banquet was very brave and held off the English raider in a slow motion finish, to give trainer Willie Mullins a fourth successive win in the race.

Michael Hourigan had made his name in recent years through the exploits of his gallant veteran Dorans Pride. In the autumn of 2002, he appeared to have a useful prospect from the flat when Beef Or Salmon finished second in the Leopardstown November Handicap.

The chesnut had won a point to point but had yet to run in a novice chase, but that winter proved a revelation, recording a hat-trick of Graded victories, including the Ericsson Chase at Christmas, when he beat Colonel Braxton by 6 lengths.

The 7 year old now set his sights on the Hennessy at Leopardstown in February 2003, where he took on the up and coming Harbour Pilot, old rival Colonel Braxton and the two old rivals Rince Ri and Florida Pearl.

Harbour Pilot and Colonel Braxton were the early leaders and the former took the field out on its final circuit with a narrow lead over Florida Pearl.

Seven fences from home and the front three were matching strides, a couple of lengths ahead of Rince Ri and Beef Or Salmon.

Racing to the third last, all five horses were still in contention, with Colonel Braxton just in front of Harbour Pilot.
Colonel Braxton headed to the second last in front, with Beef Or Salmon now ranging up menacingly, while the old boy Florida Pear l appeared to be the first to crack.

At the last, Colonel Braxton was under pressure, Harbour Pilot was being hard ridden but responded well, Rince Ri was battling on but also ridden vigorously, while all the time Timmy Murphy and Beef Or Salmon were content to bide their time.

A good jump might determine the outcome for any of the four and it was Beef Or Salmon who seized the initiative, taking the last fence in his stride and powering on, with Colonel Braxton and Harbour Pilot battling on.

But Ireland’s rising star oozed class and drew clear on the flat for a four lengths victory over Colonel Braxton, who just held off Harbour Pilot for second.

At Cheltenham, Beef Or Salmon was a faller in the Gold Cup, a race that never saw him demonstrate his true talent. Harbour Pilot finished third in the race, as Best Mate landed his second Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The following winter Beef Or Salmon was a Punchestown and Cork winner which set up a titanic clash with the dual Gold Cup winner Best Mate in the Ericsson Chase at Leoaprdstown over Christmas 2003. However, Best Mate was at his imperious best and Beef Or Salmon could only manage third, also beaten by Le Coudray. He was then ruled out of the Hennessy.

Despite the absence of Beef Or Salmon, the 2004 Hennessy had a familiar look to it, with previous winner Alexander Banquet, Rince Ri and Harbour Pilot all back, along with the improving Le Coudray. Also back was the veteran Florida Pearl, a 12 year old now, who had lost his way over the previous couple of years, but returned to Leopardstown having won the Normans Grove Chase at Fairyhouse in January 2004. It was to be his sixth start in the race.

Cloudy Bays was straight into the lead from Be My Belle and this pair quickly opened up a wide margin lead.
Passing the stands, the leader’s advantage was greatly reduced, with Harbour Pilot moving into a close second and then Be My Belle and Florida Pearl.

Racing to the fifth last fence, Cloudy Bays still held a narrow lead from Harbour Pilot, with Florida Pearl right on their heels and then Le Coudray, followed by Rince Ri.

Cloudy Bays faded approaching the fourth last fence and it was Florida Pearl and Richard Johnson who went into the lead from Harbour Pilot. Even so, they had a race on their hands and Harbour Pilot and Le Coudray both appeared to be travelling at least as well as the runners headed to the third last.

At the second last, Florida Pearl still led and Harbour Pilot made a terrible blunder and unseated Paul Carberry.

That left Florida Pearl several lengths clear of Le Coudray on the turn for home and he approached the last fence with just the loose horse Harbour Pilot for company, although that almost proved problematic as he was forced to jump left to avoid a collision.

With the last fence negotiated, Florida Pearl set off up the Leopardstown run-in, with the crowd savouring every yard covered and urging their hero on, as Le Coudray began to eat into his lead.

But Florida Pearl was not for catching and galloped on into the history books, a four-time winner of the race. What a note to end his career on.

A new era beckoned in the 2005 Hennessy, with Florida Pearl missing from the line-up for the first time since 1998.

Beef Or Salmon was back, although he had again failed to make his mark when fourth in the 2004 Cheltenham Gold Cup behind old rival Best Mate. However, in November he had beaten another rising star in Kicking King at Down Royal, and he had memorably beaten Best Mate in the Lexus Chase over Christmas, although the latter had suffered a burst blood vessel.

However, Beef Or Salmon’s winning margin might have been considerably less than 7 lengths, as Rule Supreme, the previous year’s RSA Chase winner, was staying on and closing when falling at the last fence.

Rule Supreme had endured a busy time since winning at Cheltenham in March 2004 and had won hurdles races at Auteuil and Clonmel, before returning to chasing.

Cloudy Bays was back and Pizarro was also in the line-up, having proved a smart novice chaser the season before.
Murphy’s Cardinal led as the field approached the seventh last fence, with Pizarro and Rule Supreme in close order, as the rain fell.

Pizarro had made a series of errors and finally fell at the next fence, badly hampering Beef Or Salmon.

Heading to the second last fence, Beef Or Salmon had worked his way back into contention, but it was Rule Supreme who came to join Murphy’s Cardinal.

The long-time leader quickly faded and Rule Supreme took over two from home, with Beef Or salmon on hot pursuit.

The pair appeared joined at the hip turning for home an if anything, Beef Or Salmon held a narrow lead to the inside.

At the last though, Beef Or Salmon slowed into the fence, while Rule Supreme met it on a great stride, landing with full momentum and quickly drawing clear on the flat under David Casey, to give Willie Mullins his sixth win in the race from the past seven runnings.

Whilst Rule Supreme returned to hurdling, Beef Or Salmon again failed to fire at Cheltenham, but the following autumn ran perhaps his best ever race in England, when 1 ½ lengths second to Kingscliff in the first ever Betfair Chase. At Christmas he defended his Lexus Chase crown with a four length defeat of another rising force War Of Attrition.

He returned to Leopardstown in February 2006 as a veteran now, at the age of 10, but still had three years on the gallant 13 year old Native Upmanship. The chief threat as always, seemed to come from the Willie Mullins yard, where Hedgehunter, winner of a Thyestes Chase and the reigning Grand National winner, took his chance in the Hennessy.

Hedgehunter took the field along from Prince Of Tara and Strong Project and continued to lead as the runners headed down the back straight for the final time, with no significant moves made.

Seven out and the race remained wide open, although Strong Project came to grief, with Beef Or Salmon having to take evasive action not to be brought down. Five out Beef Or Salmon made a bad error himself and did well to stay in the race.

At the third from home Hedgehunter still led from Price OF Tara, with Beef Or Salmon moving closer.

At the second last, Beef Or Salmon came to join Hedgehunter, with old Native Upmanship moving into third, although several lengths behind.

The front pair meanwhile, turned for home, with Beef Or Salmon travelling the stronger as they straightened up.
Beef Or Salmon landed over the last well and was ridden out hands and heels by Paul Carberry to land his second Hennessy Gold Cup by 12 lengths from Hedgehunter.

Once again Beef Or Salmon failed to figure at Cheltenham, but the following autumn he beat the latest Gold Cup winner War Of Attrition by a neck at Down Royal, before finishing 17 lengths second to Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase.

In December Beef Or Salmon won a hurdles race at Fairyhouse, but was beaten 8 lengths by the British challenger The Listener in the Lexus Chase, at Christmas.

The stage was set for a rematch between the pair in the Hennessy in February, with Gold Cup third Forget The Past, a winner of his last two starts, also looking a strong contender.

The grey The Listener went into the early lead and had built up a decent advantage from Forget The Past and Beef Or Salmon, as the five runners headed past the stands.

The Listener took the fourth from home with a clear lead from Forget The Past and Beef Or Salmon, while Hoy Cloy continued in a remote fourth, Patsy Hall having unseated his rider.

Racing to the second last fence, The Listener was still 8 lengths clear of Beef Or Salmon who had moved into second place and was giving chase.

At the last fence, The Listener was still a long way clear, with Beef Or Salmon under pressure and not really making any inroads.

However, with the jumping out of the way, The Listener started to tire and idle, with Beef Or Salmon gaining renewed optimism against the inside rail and starting to close dramatically.

Andrew McNamara and Beef Or Salmon simply refused to give up and as The Listener weakened, the remarkable 11 year old got up to win his third Hennessy by ¾ of a length, returning to a rapturous round of applause from the Leopardstown crowd.

Both horses failed to figure in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, as Kauto Star heralded a new era, which would have profound impact not only on British racing but also in Ireland.

The Listener won at Punchestown in December 2007, while Beef Or Salmon’s age appeared to be catching up on him. At Christmas, both horses were soundly beaten in the Lexus Chase by the latest superstar from the Paul Nicholls yard, Denman.

However, Nicholls relied on another young gun in the 2008 Hennessy, the dark grey Turko travelled over to take on a experienced bunch, with Beef Or Salmon, The Listener, Rule Supreme and Hedgehunter all in opposition and joined by the Grand National hope Snowy Morning, Mister Top Notch and the progressive Nickname.

The two British raiders were soon into a clear lead, with The Listener towing Turko along. Racing out with a circuit to race, The Listener and Daryl Jacob were about three lengths clear of Turko, with the rest of the field having closed up, headed by Mister Top Notch and Hedgehunter.

The Listener continued to dictate the pace and again increased his advantage down the back straight, with Turko still in second place.

The leader scampered away from the second last fence, but Mister Top Notch began to look a threat as they rounded the home turn, with Turko third and a gap back then to Snowy Morning.

However, The Listener found more approaching the final fence and a superb leap saw him draw away from three toiling rivals, as Snowy Morning came to join Turko and Mister Top Notch.

But they were all playing second fiddle to the flying grey The Listener, who continued his love affair with Ireland to give Robert Alner a big race win, with Turko 5 ½ lengths back in second.

The Listener dropped in trip and ran fifth in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, while Denman and Kauto Star fought out an epic 2008 Cheltneham Gold Cup, followed home in third place by another Paul Nicholls runner Neptune Collonges.

The following season did not go smoothly for him, culminating in a fall in the Lexus Chase. Meanwhile, Neptune Collonges had won at the Punchestown Festival, but had also fallen on his seasonal return in the Lexus Chase. He returned in the 2009 Hennessy Gold Cup.

The two greys faced a formidable opponent in the shape of the imposing and improving Notre Pere. Jim Dreaper’s 8 year old had just become the first Irish-trained winner of the Welsh Grand National and was bidding to enhance his own Cheltenham Gold Cup credentials.

However, whilst playing a bit part in the extraordinary careers of Denman and Kauto Star, the almost white Neptune Collonges was himself a top class horse and absolutely dominated this Hennessy from flag fall.

Ruby Walsh was content to bide his time behind perennial front runner The Listener, before asserting at the third last fence.

Notre Pere gave chance in vain but at the line, Neptune Collonges was five lengths too good, recording his third victory in Ireland. He would go on to finish fourth as Kauto Star beat Denman to land his second Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March 2009 and later in his career gained his own major highlight by winning the 2012 Grand National on his final racecourse appearance.

A year later and Notre Pere was back, but it was a new cast of competitors for the 2010 Hennessy Gold Cup.
Joncol had proved a smart novice chaser the previous season and had won the 2009 John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase, before running third to What A Friend in the Lexus Chase. The Paul Nolan trained gelding was now bidding to enter the Gold Cup picture.

Cooldine had won the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in 2009 and was bidding to further enhance the record of Willie Mullins in the Hennessy, while Money Trix travelled over from the UK base of Nicky Richards, having won three on the bounce before finishing an excellent ½ a length second to What A Friend at Leopardstown over Christmas in the Lexus Chase.

Cooldine and Notre Pere were the early leaders but with a circuit to run, the pace was relatively sedate, with all 7 horses in touch.

Racing to the third last fence, Cooldine still held a narrow lead from a bunching field, with Notre Pere racing to the inside and Schindler’s Hunt also in close contention.

At the second last Cooldine touched down just in front of Schindler’s Hunt, with Joncol making ground as the grey Moneytrix blundered.

Schindler’s Hunt, edged into a narrow lead from Cooldine, as they raced to the final fence with Joncol still a couple of lengths down.

However, Cooldine rallied for Ruby Walsh and moved back to the front, with the dark giant Joncol now staying on for Alain Cawley.

The two almost bumped as they joined issue and in a desperate finish it was the big, powerful Joncol who inched ahead and won by a neck after a memorable renewal.

Sadly Joncol was a horse beset with niggling injuries and connections missed Cheltenham in 2010 to give him more time.

He failed to add to his tally in the following year, but was third to Pandorama in the Lexus Chase at Christmas.

That put him on course to defend his Hennessy crown, with China Rock, who had defeated Sizing Europe earlier in the season, considered a leading challenger. The Listener, perhaps past his best, was back again, along with Money Trix, while Kempes, a Grade 1 winner at the Punchestown Festival, was in the line-up, having unseated his rider in the Lexus Chase.

The Listener was soon in front but joined by Let Yourself Go, this pair a couple of lengths ahead of Made In Taipan and China Rock.

Very sadly, as the field began the turn out of the back straight, Money Trix appeared to take a false step and was pulled up, having suffered a fatal injury.

The Listener took the remaining runners past the stands and out onto their final circuit, closely pressed by China Rock.

The Listener was joined by China Rock at the third last, with Trafford Lad a closing third and then Made In Taipan, Joncol and Kempes, in what still looked an open race.

China Rock pressed on and took the second last with a clear lead, as The Listener faded and was passed by Kempes.
Turning for home, China Rock’s stamina began to run out and Kempes and David Casey quickly went past on the home bend, with Trafford Lad and Joncol in close contention and then the staying on Glencove Marina.

Kempes took the last fence a length ahead of Joncol and Glencove Marina and despite wandering on the run-in, had plenty in hand to beat Glencove Marina by 4 ½ lengths. There was a sad postscript to the race as the runner-up collapsed and died after finishing the race.

This was a very sad renewal and Kempes failed to make his mark in the Gold Cup and later in the year himself suffered a fatal fall at Punchestown.

In 2012 China Rock was back in action, but it was again a relatively new cast of characters, headed by the previous year’s RSA Chase winner Boston’s Angel and the smart novice chaser Magnanimity.

Quel Esprit represented Willie Mullins, who was bidding for an eighth win in the race, but had struggled with his jumping in his novice season, falling twice (including in the RSA Chase) and being brought down at Punchestown.

He had however brushed up on his jumping for the 2011/12 season and came to Leopardstown with back to back wins behind him.

Boston’s Angel and Quel Esprit took the field along through the first circuit and the latter and Ruby Walsh had moved into a clear lead at the fence in front of the stands.

The grey continued in front, pestered all the way down the back straight by Boston’s Angel, with China Rock and Magnanimity close behind.

Three out and Boston’s Angel started to back pedal as China Rock loomed large to the outside of Quel Esprit, with Roberto Goldback closing.

However, Quel Esprit still had plenty to give and the 8 year old travelled best off the home bend, with Roberto Goldback moving into second but under pressure.

Quel Esprit met the last fence spot on and galloped on gamely, winning by two lengths from Roberto Goldback, with Treacle picking up the pieces for third.

Quel Esprit missed Cheltenham but was well beaten by China Rock at the Punchestown Festival, before disappointing in France in May.

He was not seen out again until attempting to defend his crown in the 2013 Irish Hennessy, but his defence was a side show, as his stable mate Sir Des Champs went head to head with Flemenstar, with Joncol thrown in for good measure.

Sir Des Champs had won at the past two Cheltenham Festivals and had looked a potential Gold Cup winner when landing the Jewson Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham, before making it eight successive wins at the Punchestown Festival. His unbeaten chase record had gone when the exciting Flemenstar had beaten him by 5 lengths in the John Durkan Memorial Chase in December 2012 and both horses over Christmas, played their parts in an unforgettable Lexus Chase, won by Tidal Bay, with Flemenstar third and Sir Des Champs fourth, but both within ¾ of a length of the winner.

Flemenstar’s win at Punchestown had made it seven straight over fences, but his run in the Lexus Chase left question marks over his stamina at three miles.

Quel Esprit went straight into the lead from Sir Des Champs, with Joncol third and then Flemenstar, biding his time in an attempt to stay the trip.

The order remained unchanged with a circuit to run, but with 8 to jump, Flemenstar had moved past Joncol.

Quel Esprit headed to the third from home with a narrow advantage, but Sir Des Champs jumped past him and into the lead, with Flemenstar closing and the prospect of a fascinating finish now on the cards.

The three horses were covered by a length at the second last fence and Sir Des Champs turned for home with Flemenstar on his heels, the two young horses now drawing away from Quel Esprit.

Sir Des Champs, under a hard ride from Davy Russell, took the last fence about 1 ½ lengths to the good over his rival but Flemenstar started to draw level on the run-in.

However, Sir Des Champs, with a reputation as a fearsome battler, stuck his head down and pulled out more in the latter stages, gaining his revenge by 1 ¾ lengths.

That put Sir Des Champs firmly in the Gold Cup picture for Cheltenham, a course he loved. He ran a cracking race but perhaps the extra distance counted against him as another Cheltenham reveller, Bobs Worth, beat him by 7 lengths.

Sadly both Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs were sidelined through injury by the time of the 2014 Hennessy Gold Cup, but a high class field of seven lined-up.

First Lieutenant had won a Grade 1 Chase at Aintree and was always in the shake-up in big races, placing in Newbury’s Hennessy Gold Cup and running 1 ½ lengths second to Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth in the Lexus Chase over Christmas 2013.

The remarkable 13 year old Tidal Bay was also in the line-up, having just run third in the Welsh Grand National under a big weight. The 2013 RSA Chase winner Lord Windermere took his place in the field, along with Lyreen Legend, just 1 ¾ lengths second in that race. Roi Du Mee had won a Down Royal Grade 1 earlier in the season, while Texas Jack had proved classy and consistent over shorter trip and had just won the Grade 2 Kinloch Brae Chase.

The unknown quantity in this race was Last Instalment, a high class novice chaser two seasons before, who had landed back to back Grade 1 races, before injury halted his progress. The Philip Fenton trained 9 year old had raced just once since February 2012, when coming home a highly encouraging third to Texas Jack in the Kinloch Brae.

Roi Du Mee led over the first fence, but Last Instalment, racing wide, was soon in front of a closely-bunched field.
Racing down the back straight on the final circuit, Last Instalment still held a slender lead from Tidal Bay and Roi Du Mee and all seven were within striking distance, at the final ditch, three from home.

Last Instalment took the second last still in front and kicked off the home turn under Brian O’Connell, drawing a few lengths clear of First Lieutenant and Lyreen Legend.

Last Instalment took the final fence about three lengths clear of First Lieutenant and the staying on Texas Jack and drew clear in brilliant style, beating the staying on Tidal Bay by 8 ½ lengths with a memorable and courageous performance, underlining the talent that had been absent for so long.

Last Instalment travelled well for a long time in the Cheltenham Gold Cup but appeared to be suffering when blundering and unseating his rider, in a race won by Lord Windermere. Injury meant that Last Instalment was retired afterwards.

Carlingford Lough and AP McCoy beat Foxrock in the Hennessy Gold Cup
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Tattersalls Ireland

The 2015 Hennessy Gold Cup was dominated beforehand by the news that multiple UK Champion Jockey A P McCoy, had announced his imminent retirement from riding the day before at Newbury.

The reigning Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere was back in the line-up, having been brought quietly along by trainer Jim Culloty. Also back were First Lieutenant and Texas Jack and they were joined by the smart Willie Mullins pair Boston Bob and the Gold Cup runner-up On His Own, who had finished a short head second to Lord Windermere at Cheltenham in March 2014. Foxrock represented Ted Walsh.

McCoy was set to partner Carlingford Lough, running in the colours of his retainer JP McManus.

The John Kiely trained 9 year old had won the Grade 1 Topaz Novice Chase at Leopardstown in December 2013, but jumping errors had cost him afterwards and he was a well beaten 6th in the RSA Chase, before landing a second Grade 1 at Punchestown in April 2014. He had been late returning to action, having his first start of the year when finishing fifth behind Road To Riches in the Grade 1 Lexus Chase over Christmas 2014, with connections hopeful of more improvement in February.

On His Own set off clear of First Lieutenant and Home Farm through the early stages and the order up front was little changed as the field reached halfway and set off on their final circuit.

Four out and it was still On His Own in front of First Lieutenant, with Home Farm to the outer and Lord Windermere racing between horses. Further back came Carlingford Lough and Foxrock, both still in touch and yet to be played.

Turning out of the back straight and running to the second last, the Gold Cup first and second led but plenty still had chances. Carlingford Lough made a mistake.

Lord Windermere then went on approaching the home turn with On His Own looking a spent force, while Foxrock made ground to the inside and Carlingford Lough came under pressure in fourth place.

Heading to the last, Foxrock came to deliver his challenge to Lord Windermere, with On His Own still plugging on at the one pace and AP McCoy still pushing hard on Carlingford Lough in fourth place, but starting to close, as was Texas Jack.

Foxrock and Lord Windermere leapt at the last but under a typical McCoy drive, Carlingford Lough to the inside began to respond and dig deep. With Lord Windermere now ceding to his rivals, it became a battle of wills between Carlingford Lough and Foxrock, with the former getting up by ¾ of a length to give McCoy his first Irish Hennessy victory on one of his last ever appearances in the saddle at Leopardstown. It was a stirring and memorable race.

Carlingford Lough was a well beaten 9th behind Coneygree in the Cheltenham Gold Cup that spring and looked a shadow of his former self in two disappointing efforts the following season. The ten year old arrive at Leopardstown in February 2016, for the newly-named Irish Gold Cup, having finished a tailed off last of 6 behind Don Poli in the Lexus Chase at Christmas.

Foxrock was back in opposition, along with familiar names like First Lieutenant and On His Own, while Sir Des Champs, the winner three years earlier, was making his tentative steps back on the racecourse after three years blighted with injury.

The promising Valseur Lido had fallen in the King George VI Chase, while Gilgamboa had won a Fairyhouse Grade 1 the previous Easter. However, the chief threat appeared to come from Road To Riches, a former Lexus Chase winner who had finished third to Coneygree at Cheltenham.

On His Own took his customary position at the front of the field and set a good pace from Foxrock in the early stages.

The veteran entered the home straight on the first circuit with a clear lead over Road To Riches and Foxrock, with Valseur Lido fourth, as the field passed the stands, with Carlingford Lough in last.

On His Own was joined by Road To Riches down the back straight and this pair were joined by Foxrock at the final ditch, with a gap back to the rest and Carlingford Lough still bringing up the rear.

On His Own took three out in front, while Fine Rightly made a mistake and shuffled back through the pack. At the back of the field and several lengths behind, Mark Walsh was hard at work on Carlingford Lough and not making much progress.

At the second last, the race complexion changed quickly, as On His Own, still travelling well and a couple of lengths clear of a pack poised to pounce, pecked badly on landing, quickly surrendering his advantage.

That left Road To Riches and Valseur Lido in front of Foxrock, First Lieutenant and Wounded Warrior, with Carlingford Lough, out of contention, last of the ten and detached.

The field swung wide into the home straight and at the last fence the Gigginstown pair Road To Riches and Valseur Lido appeared to have the race between them, with Foxrock galloping at the one pace and then Fine Rightly to the inside.

However, Carlingford Lough had stuck to the inside and saved ground and had made astonishing progress, going past beaten horses like a hot knife through butter.

The leaders took off together at the last fence, with Valseur Lido travelling much the better and apparently still full of running. However, Valseur Lido, having seemingly jumped the last fence well, nodded on landing and unseated Ruby Walsh.

Carlingford Lough swept past Road To Riches and stormed clear for an unlikely win, beating Road To Riches by 12 lengths, with Fine Rightly third.

Carlingford Lough became the sixth horse to win the race more than once.

Sizing John 
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In 2017 the race proved the launch pad for a meteoric rising star. Sizing John had been best known for regularly chasing home Douvan over shorter distances, but the step up to three miles proved his making.
The Jessica Harrington trained gelding won the Irish Gold Cup before going on to glorious victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The following month he added the Punchestown Gold Cup for a remarkable treble.

Edwulf wins the Irish Gold Cup
Image supplied by Tattersalls Ireland

The 2018 renewal of the Irish Gold Cup provided an emotional fairytale victory for Edwulf.

The JP McManus-owned, Joseph O’Brien trained nine year-old had collapsed due to an oxygen deficiency, in the 2017 National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

He had been prone on the ground for forty minutes and many doubted he would survive the evening.

Astonishingly, fully recovered, eleven months later, he lined up in the Irish Gold Cup.

With Djakadam beaten, Killultagh Vic delivered his challenge with Outlander at the final fence. The former fell and it appeared likely that Outlander would gain the day.

But Edwulf and Derek O’Connor began to close dramatically and got up by a neck. Edwulf was described afterwards as the ‘Miracle Horse’.

The Irish Gold Cup from its outset has been a race laden with quality and continues to produce some of the major highlights of the entire Irish season.

Past winners of the Irish Gold Cup:

Forgive ‘n Forget
Mark Dwyer
Jimmy FitzGerald

Paul Nicholls
David Barons

Carvill’s Hill
Ken Morgan
Jim Dreaper

Nick the Brief
Martin Lynch
John Upson

Nick the Brief
Robbie Supple
John Upson

Carvill’s Hill
Peter Scudamore
Martin Pipe

Mark Dwyer
Peter Beaumont

Mark Dwyer
Peter Beaumont

Mark Dwyer
Peter Beaumont

Imperial Call
Conor O’Dwyer
Fergie Sutherland

Tommy Treacy
Tom Foley

Dorans Pride
Richard Dunwoody
Michael Hourigan

Florida Pearl
Richard Dunwoody
Willie Mullins

Florida Pearl
Paul Carberry
Willie Mullins

Florida Pearl
Richard Johnson
Willie Mullins

Alexander Banquet
Barry Geraghty
Willie Mullins

Beef or Salmon
Timmy Murphy
Michael Hourigan

Florida Pearl
Richard Johnson
Willie Mullins

Rule Supreme
David Casey
Willie Mullins

Beef or Salmon
Paul Carberry
Michael Hourigan

Beef or Salmon
Andrew McNamara
Michael Hourigan

The Listener
Daryl Jacob
Robert & Sally Alner

Neptune Collonges
Ruby Walsh
Paul Nicholls

Alain Cawley
Paul Nolan

David Casey
Willie Mullins

Quel Esprit
Ruby Walsh
Willie Mullins

Sir Des Champs
Davy Russell
Willie Mullins

Last Instalment
Brian O’Connell
Philip Fenton

Carlingford Lough
Tony McCoy
John Kiely

Carlingford Lough
Mark Walsh
John Kiely

Sizing John
Robbie Power
Jessica Harrington

Derek O’Connor
Joseph O’Brien