Fakir D’Oudairies became the latest Irish raider to claim big-race honours on British soil with a battling victory in the Betfair Ascot Chase.
The raiding party’s dominance of last year’s Cheltenham Festival is well documented at this stage, while earlier this season A Plus Tard lifted the Betfair Chase and Tornado Flyer plundered the King George.
There has not been an Irish-trained winner of this particular Grade One contest since Sound Man struck gold for Edward O’Grady in 1996, but Fakir D’Oudairies ended the 26-year wait under Mark Walsh.
Joseph O’Brien’s charge had already carried the colours of leading owner JP McManus to two top-level victories and kicked off the current campaign with a Grade Two success in the Clonmel Oil Chase.
He had proved no match for the brilliant Allaho on his two most recent outings at Punchestown and Thurles, but was the 9-4 favourite to bounce back to winning ways in Berkshire.
With King George third Saint Calvados pulling up and a bad mistake four fences from home knocking the stuffing out of last year’s winner Dashel Drasher, it was 25-1 shot Two For Gold who led the way turning for home.
It took Fakir D’Oudairies a while to wear him down, but he eventually got on top after the final obstacle and had a length and three-quarters in hand at the line.
O’Brien said: “They were tough conditions. Mark gave him a good ride. It was a pretty gruelling race and a long way up the straight, but delighted to win a Grade One.
“I thought turning in we had every chance but we were a bit slow at the second last – he got a bit tight into it – and then it was really a slog from there. But our horse is tough and he fought all the way to the line.
“He is very good at his best. He was a good juvenile hurdler, went chasing then and he has never really run a bad race, to be fair to the horse. He has been solid and consistent and he has come up a little bit short at times, but he always turns up and runs with his heart on his sleeve.
“Allaho is as good a two-and-a-half-miler as there probably is around at the moment and we have come up against him a few times, but when you have a Grade One horse, you meet the best around.
“It was nice today that we had a chance to run in a Grade One where we wouldn’t meet Allaho.”
Coral cut Fakir D’Oudairies to 10-1 from 14-1 for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, a race in which he finished second to Allaho last season before going one better in the Melling Chase at Aintree.
“Cheltenham and Aintree are the two most logical places from here – we’ll see how he comes out of today’s race and the decision will be made about Cheltenham closer to the time,” O’Brien added.
“He had a pretty tough race today, so we will see how he comes home, but those are the logical races for him.
“We sent them over on Thursday, but that would have been when we travelled anyway. He travelled a bit earlier on Thursday than what he would have under normal circumstances because of the weather. It didn’t interrupt our preparation too much.”