THE dominance of Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary in the feature of the Down Royal Festival with his Gigginstown Stud having won the seven past renewals of the big race was broken, when ‘The Storyteller’ triumphed for local owners Joe and Pat Sloan last Saturday.
It was a dream and deserved result for the Templepatrick couple – sponsors of the first day feature, the WKD Hurdle since the inception of the local showcase event and their runner claiming the £125,000 Ladbrokes Champion Chase. The Gordon Elliott trained winner was given a superb ride by Keith Donoghue, having been last for most of the race until delivered to challenge two out and leading over the last to prevail from favourite, ‘Chris’s Dream’ by a neck in a photo finish.
The well supported local horse (7s to 9/2) provided the Meath trainer with his fourth victory in the first Grade 1 Chase of the jumps season. Robbie Power, rider of the runner up and presently based in Britain, spent the day isolated in a room when paying a flying visit, having undergone Covid tests in advance, but unable to associate with fellow jockeys.
The Sloan family have long been major supporters of racing, with daughter Joanne Sloan Allen an International show jumper and advises her father in buying horses.
Joe Sloan said on Sunday: “We had hoped for a good run and possibly finishing in the frame. Davy Russell normally rides him, but is out with an injury, but Keith (Donoghue) was brilliant on him and he was so confident beforehand. He takes a bit of knowing and has his own way of jumping.”
The horse is named after his daughter’s youngest child, Arielle, who would regularly visit her grandfather and tell him stories.
Sloan added: “We decided to call a horse after her. It was a great thrill, especially at the track we have a long association with. ‘The Storyteller’ has had five runs in a couple of months and he definitely peaked on the right day. Gordon will decide on the horses’s future, but going back over hurdles is a possibility.”
Sloan continued: “We have a couple of Thoroughbred broodmares, but will not cover them again next season as we already have two very nice colts by the sire ‘Getaway’, who is doing so well. We will use those mares as surrogates for embryos from Joanne’s international show jumper, ‘Suma’s Zorro’ and forget about breeding Thoroughbreds.”
Elliott said: “The ground not going too deep suited him. He’s a horse of a lifetime and has always been a brilliant horse for the Sloans. He might get a bit of a break. It’s great for Keith, he’s a big part of our team. He’s had loads of chances and he proves when he gets the chances, how good he is.”
Regarding fourth placed ‘Presenting Percy’, Elliott added: “Denis (O’Regan) was happy with him and said he blew up. The ground just wasn’t as soft as he would have wanted.”
Elliott also landed the Grade 2 Novice Chase when ‘Battleoverdoyen’ provided jockey, Mark Wash with a double. The winner, a product of the local point to point circuit, was tutored by Banbridge trainer, Gerry Cosgrave to win at Templepatrick and subsequently sold for £230,000. He might just have had four rivals, but gave a polished performance to score with better fancied stable companion, ‘Samcro’ filling third.
Elliott said: “He ran a great race and I’m delighted.”
Elliott started the day when ‘Quilixios’ (1/16) cantered round the course in the hands of Jack Kennedy to beat his three rivals in the Juvenile Hurdle.
Elliott said: “He couldn’t have done that any easier. He’s better than that race.”
The Cullentra trainer quickly completed a double when ‘Ballyadam’ carried the colours of last year’s winning owners, the Cheveley Park Stud, to victory in the Tayto Hurdle. Kennedy sat second to the leader prior to easing the £330,000 Portrush point to point winner purchase to the front two from home, registering a 12-length victory.
Elliott said: “He’ll step up into graded company now – I’d say something like the Royal Bond (Fairyhouse). He’s pretty smart.”
The JP McManus owned, ‘Cayd Boy’ claimed the featured hurdle on his handicap debut. The Liz Doyle trained runner was ridden wide by JP’s retained jockey, Mark Walsh and avoided trouble at the penultimate flight when the leader, ‘The Very Man’, fell bringing down another McManus runner ‘Drop The Anchor’.
Walsh said: “We actually didn’t go much of a gallop, which suited my fellow because he has a good turn of foot.”
An impressive winning debut by ‘Sir Gerhard’ in the Maze finale gave Gordon Elliott five winners on the day – eight in total over the two days, while Cheveley Park recorded a quartet of winners capable of competing at the highest level.