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By Martin Kelly, Press Association Sport. Last Updated: 17/03/10 6:42pm
Weapon's Amnesty ran out an impressive winner.
Weapon's Amnesty and an unflinching Davy Russell spoiled what appeared to be an RSA Chase already gift-wrapped for Nicky Henderson at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday.
Henderson's pair Punchestowns and Long Run were sent off the respective first and second favourites for a particularly competitive renewal of the staying novices' title.
But it was left to the stable's third-string Burton Port to claim the runner-up spot behind Charles Byrnes' chestnut, now victorious at back-to-back Cheltenham Festivals.
Weapon's Amnesty was the first Irish-trained winner on St Patrick's Day but one that was perhaps ironic and appropriate at the same time, as he is owned by Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair and a man who tends to polarise public opinion.
It was surprising to see 10-1 shot Weapon's Amnesty hurtle seven lengths clear up the hill with only a success in a minor event at Newcastle from five previous starts over fences.
But last year's performance in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle proved Prestbury Park is where his talents rise to the surface.
Long Run (11-4) was clearly a major player after two fine British outings under Sam Waley-Cohen, the amateur rider who would have been an obvious target for criticism if things had gone badly wrong.
Waley-Cohen had his horse in the perfect position, however, and only his mount's stamina and inexperience seemed to have let him down as he lost second at the post.
More worrying was Punchestowns, backed into 2-1 favourite, but a far cry from his usual powerful self as he finished a distant fifth.
Weapon's Amnesty's performance could certainly not be faulted, with Russell sticking determinedly to the inside rail throughout before letting rip when Citizen Vic suffered a fatal fall in front of him at the second last.
O'Leary said: "It was unbelievable. They don't always come back the following year and I thought the ex-French horse (Long Run) looked very hot, and Punchestowns too.
"This is compensation for Charles after Solwhit's disappointing run in the Champion Hurdle yesterday. Well done Charles, well done Davy."
Byrnes is now keen to go for next year's Cheltenham Gold Cup, for which the seven-year-old is as short as 8-1, but O'Leary added: "I don't think he'd be good enough for a Gold Cup as RSA horses tend to be too slow, but we'll certainly enjoy today."
Byrnes added: "It was an unbelievable round of jumping but we had by far the most experienced horse.
"You could almost call him a handicapper against novices.
"It just shows that this horse is better round here than anywhere else.
"I'm shocked by the ease of his win but I knew he'd put in an improved performance compared to his last two runs, simply because of the course and the better ground.
"Davy switched him off and was just brilliant.
"It will be doubtful you'd see him again this season - I don't think the owner will want to go to Aintree - but, please God, he'll be back here next year for the Gold Cup."
Of his trio, Henderson said: "We didn't expect Burton Port to finish first of the three but he has run so well it's not true - but without my other two you'd have fancied your chances anyway with him.
"Long Run lunged at a couple, but it almost looked like he didn't stay. He's only a baby and we will iron those kinks out.
"Punchestowns cannot have been quite right. He lost a shoe from the foot that was giving him a problem at some point in the race. That obviously doesn't help."
Henderson later reported Punchestowns had returned sore.
Much happier with his lot was George Charlton, whose Knockara Beau took fourth.
He beamed: "He just needs to get his jumping together and when he does that he'll be top class."
Another disappointment was the 5-1 third favourite Diamond Harry, who lost his place and was eventually pulled up.
Trainer Nick Williams said: "We haven't seen the real Diamond Harry.
"We'll take him home and see how he is, but he won't run again this season."