Hourigan reflects on Church Island's Gold run

Irish runner took Sandown honours in 2010.

  • Saturday 25 April
  • News
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It is 10 years ago this week that veteran Church Island created a 20-1 surprise in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown as the curtain came down on the National Hunt season.

The Michael Hourigan-trained gelding stayed best of the 19 runners off a searing early pace to triumph for the County Limerick handler and Adrian Heskin, who was a young 7lb claimer at the time.

Heskin had turned 18 a couple of days earlier and was not much older than his mount in the big race, who was by then an 11-year-old. While Tony McCoy was crowned champion jockey for the 15th time that afternoon, Heskin had only ridden his first winner the previous year.

It was another great result for Hourigan and Heskin, who had teamed up to great effect at the Cheltenham Festival with A New Story.

Piraya set a very quick tempo in front early on and Heskin chose to take a prominent position, settling in second as the gallop started to sort the men from the boys.

As Piraya just started to toil, Heskin seized the initiative aboard Church Island with a mile to go as his rivals began to fall by the wayside.

Church Island was not stopping in front and while Hoo La Baloo and former winner Lacdoudal tried to go with him, they had no answer as he cleared the last in style and powered away by six lengths.

Hoo La Baloo took second, with Lacdoudal three and three-quarter lengths away in third and 13-year-old Monkerhostin back in fourth.

Joint-favourite The Package was putting in his best work at the end from a long way back to take fifth, while fellow 7-1 market leader Fairoak Lad was pulled up.

Hourigan was full of praise for his teenage rider in the immediate aftermath – and is no less so with the passage of time.

He said: “It was a great performance from the horse and the rider and he more or less made all. It was a big day for him and he gave him a great ride.

“He was fourth the year before and we planned to go back. He suffered a bit with his joints, but he was very good when he was right and he liked a bit of nice ground.”

Church Island – running in the colours of Joe Craig made so famous by the yard’s brilliant Beef Or Salmon – had been a close fourth in the race the year before, having finished a narrow second at 50-1 in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse prior to that.

Hourigan remembered: “The year he was fourth he was unlucky in the Irish National before it, I thought he had that won but Niche Market just came and did him on the line. He got a bit lonely really in front.

“I had my other horse, A New Story, there as well and I thought they were going to be first and second jumping the last, but Niche Market came with a wet sail and did both of them.

“Those were the days.”

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