THE Graded races are promoted as the main attraction of the Down Royal Festival of Racing, however, over two days at the Maze it was Gordon Elliott’s battalion of potential super stars that headlined the action. A superb Saturday display by ‘Envoi Allen’, winning on his debut over hurdles and the trainer claiming the concluding bumper with ‘Easy Work’, brought the master trainer’s tally to seven and he appears in for a massively successful season.
‘Road to Respect’ made history when recording back to back victories in the Maze Festival feature – the Ladbrokes Champion Chase and becoming the third dual winner of the province’s biggest race. The Noel Meade trained horse has now matched the great ‘Kauto Star’s’ dual victories in the Grade 1 contest, but that was in different years, while the same applies to the former locally owned hero ‘Beef Or Salmon’, but had a year between victories due to the 2005 abandonment of the big race day.
The winner, with Sean Flanagan aboard, gave a battling display in the closing stages to deny British raider and favourite ‘Clan Des Obeaux’. ‘Delta Work’ was displayed as favourite and the novice chaser’s jumping let him down, finishing fourth of the five runners, while supplying owner, Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud with a seventh successive victory in the £150,000 big race.
Meade said: “Paul Carberry actually rode him work twice when Sean was out. We brought him to Punchestown and worked him and then we brought him to Navan and worked him. The last day he said ‘spot on, don’t do any more’. I weighed him every week and I got the fright of my life this morning, as he is 19 kilos heavier than he was this day last year and he was heavy here last year. To be honest, last season got destroyed when he ran on fast ground in Leopardstown. Leopardstown is the obvious place to go again, but we’ll see about the ground – the ground would have to be easy enough. He’ll definitely be put in the King George.”
Flanagan, who had just returned to the saddle following a bad Downpatrick fall, added: “This is his time of year and he did it well. He jumped better than he has ever done and the slower going suited. We didn’t go quick and it allowed me to settle him and he’s got plenty of boot at the finish. He’s a real Grade 1 horse, but I think ground is a factor, however, the programme decides where you go during the season.”
The Willie Mullins trained, ‘Real Steel’ trailed last of the just four runners in the supporting novice chase only to make progress to challenge three out and lead two from home to deny ‘Secret Investor’, which under the trainer’s head lad and former rider, Simon McGonagle had headed affairs for most of the race.
Mullins said: “Paul [Townend] was happy enough to sit in behind when he saw the pace they were going. His horse was first time out and he probably didn’t want to go and mix it that early at that pace. Paul said to me he slipped into the fence past the stands and he was very lucky to stay upright. After that, he just settled into the race and jumped well, except for the third last and stayed on well. It’s nice for one of our first winter horses to come out and win like that, so it will give the yard a good bit of confidence. He’s in the Ladbroke (at Newbury), so we’ll see. I think Paul says he is happier going right-handed.”
The featured hurdle saw the JP McManus owned pair ‘Janidil’ and ‘Hearts Are Trumps’ go head to head on the downhill run with the former winning and the last named filling fourth. However, it was the effort of ‘Shumaker’ that was notable, having completed a hat trick for Dundrod rookie trainer, Paul Traynor last weekend and another gallant effort saw the local horse just caught late by ‘Try Again’ to finish third and is a credit to the trainer.