THE Larne-based Crawford brothers produced the perfect conclusion to the Northern racing season at the rescheduled Boxing Day fixture at the Maze on Thursday, December 17, when ‘Dixie Flyer’ (28s to 14/1) was the decisive winner of the finale – making all to beat a high class field and going away at the finish. The local horse had only one previous outing in a Toome point-to-point, but was ridden with confidence by Ben for his trainer/ brother, Stuart and the jockey having a look between his legs on the downhill run for possible dangers. Several of the field started with big reputations, but the Larne runner proved an impressive victor.
Stuart Crawford said: “We had kind of always picked out to come here. He’s a good enough jumper, but it suited us to come and run him in a bumper. He did that well today and Ben (Crawford) gave him a great ride. He got out in front and dictated it and had plenty of horse left at the end. He could go for a winner’s bumper. He was very unfortunate when he ran in a point-to-point and he just made a green mistake at the first.”
The hunterchase proved a thriller. The locally trained ‘Winged Leader’ attempted to make all and only gave best when headed at the final fence by ‘Billaway’ (2/1 to 5/4) – the winner was runner up in the race last year and subsequently filled second in the Cheltenham Festival Foxhunters. The victor is trained by Willie Mullins and partnered by his son and champion amateur, Patrick.
Mullins Junior said: “His jumping is getting much quicker. In Cheltenham last year, we weren’t losing ground, but we weren’t making any ground at every fence, whereas the winner was. I think he is still improving and I think he is a better horse this year than last year. I think his jumping is getting slicker. That’s what he needed to do, so he is doing it. He’ll go to Thurles at the end of January.”
Trainer, Joseph O’Brien supplied the first pair home in the opener, when ‘Battle Of Actium’ beat his better fancied stable companion ‘Fun Light’. While the winner, with Donagh Meyler in the saddle, was always prominent, while the runner up, which started favourite, improved from three out, but was never on terms with the winner.
Meyler said: “He was very professional, so hopefully he can improve from that again. I’m delighted to ride a winner for Joseph (O’Brien) – it’s my first winner for him. He has been very kind to me over the last few months, with JJ (Slevin – stable jockey) out.”
The favourite in the Red Mills Hurdle feature, ‘Vintage Prosecco’, led from flag fall, but raced very keen in front only to be joined at the final flight by ‘Feelgood Island’ with Sean O’Keefe aboard and was over-hauled on the run to the line. The pace saw the majority of the field struggling at halfway. The first pair look talented and could be players in the valuable final of the Red Mills series.
O’Keeffe said: “He’s a lovely horse going forward. He was very, very babyish and the penny is just dropping with him now. He improved a lot for a hurdle.”
Trainer, Gavin Cromwell, who had to settle for second in the feature, gained quick compensation when ‘You Say Nothing’ landed the handicap hurdle. Jockey, Conor McNamara was seen to great advantage when dictating from the front, with the always prominent ‘Lauderdale Lady’ keeping on for second.
Racing manager, Feidhlim Cunningham said: “It was a great ride from Conor (McNamara). He was very unlucky the penultimate day in Fairyhouse, when he fell two out. That was more like him and it was a good win.”
Rachael Blackmore was another to showcase her talents when landing the Beginners Chase on ‘Arahecan’. The jockey waited patiently mid-division on the Henry De Bromhead horse before improving and challenging between horses at the last fence to readily prevail.
Travelling head lad Alan Cody said: “Hopefully he can progress, we’ll have to wait and see.”
The Oliver McKiernan trained, ‘Kristian Goingwel’ landed a gamble (8s to 100/30 favourite) in the handicap chase. Claiming rider, Gavin Brouder always had the winner in the front rank prior to a facile victory, having led from three out.
Brouder said: “The plan was to jump handy and make as much use of him as we could. He did everything right. I’m delighted to be riding him.”
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