‘HANDY Headon’ (5s to 100/30) supplied a change of luck for Derrylin trainer, David Christie when turning the May Day Down Royal Hunterchase into a rout with an immaculate round of jumping and powering away at the finish with Ben Harvey aboard. The Fermanagh trainer has had to settle for the runner spot in Championship Hunterchases at Cheltenham and Punchestown in recent weeks and last month filled the same position three times within five days in photo finishes.
Christie said: “It’s good to win one! Up the straight I thought we’re going to get caught again. I made a mistake with him and now know he wants good ground and to be in front. He runs in special padded shoes now as well. When I bought him, I was told to pat him in the stable every day and didn’t listen. The seller knew best and he gets a pat now every morning. He might go to Stratford for the big hunterchase meeting, as the fences take some jumping and the ground is always good.”
Racing got underway with a shock 25/1 winner when the John Ryan trained, ‘Gaelic Arc’ bolted home providing jockey, Niall Prendergast with his second winner. Always handy during the race, the winner hit the front between the last two flights and headed favourite ‘Flaming Moon’ (100/30 to 5/4), which had attempted to make all.
Ryan said: “He’s a funny horse, difficult to train. He’s free and hard on himself. He is going to be a lovely horse over a fence. He’s a half-brother to a French Champion hurdle winner. Young Niall Prendergast gave the horse a cracking ride. He’s a good nice lad.”
Another shock result awaited punters in the second race, when ‘Drumbaragh’ (33s to 28/1) ran away with the handicap hurdle. The Pat Martin trained winner was forced to assume the lead when ‘Boing’ and Sam Ewing fell at the fifth hampering those behind, but once at the head of affairs always travelled well and had a massive lead on the downhill run to assure victory. Favourite ‘Junior Bee’ (3s to 11/8) stayed on late, but could never make any impact.
All the jumping races were confined to riders who had not ridden 15 winners in the previous year. Former Champion conditional, Omagh jockey, Simon Torrens was seen to excellent advantage when leading three from home in the three-mile hurdle and survived a blunder at the penultimate flight to score easily aboard the John McConnell trained ‘Chinx Of Light’ (5/2 to 5/1). ‘Where It All Began’ and ‘Angels Dawn’ were second and third, but well held when the first named fell at the last, bringing down the other.
McConnell said: “He’s a funny sort of a horse, he’s very relaxed in the stable yard. The minute he gets to hear noise, he gets quite worked up. He wasn’t too bad today, but he still has a lot left to develop mentally.”
The Beginners Chase produced a thriller with a three-way finish. Favourite ‘Turnpike Trip’ gave a display of jumping in front, despite prior mishaps, but at the final fence ‘Sholsang’ led, having been waited with, but it was the Gordon Elliott trained ‘Gallyhill’ that prevailed when rallying close to home under Conor Orr – replacing Ballyclare jockey San Ewing, who was due to ride but after the earlier heavy fall was taken to hospital for x-rays.
The Paul Fahy trained ‘Diggin Deep’ certainly lived up to his name when claiming the feature chase. Jockey Cian Cullinan found his saddle had slipped to one side on the first circuit, but kept going in front, correcting the saddle. The 12-year-old was a very game winner, readily holding the always prominent ‘Mister Bells’, while favourite ‘Pat Coyne’ was never on terms.
Fahy said: “He’s completely ground dependent – the quicker the going, the better. The owner works for me and led up the horse. We might take him to Britain, the likes of Perth.”
The concluding bumper provided another shock 20/1 winner from 40/1, when ‘Single Edition’ made every yard of the race for trainer Nigel Slevin and jockey, Carl Millar.
Meanwhile at the Curragh, Mrs Patricia Hunt whose family have a very long association with Down Royal and committee members, saw her star ‘Layfayette’ complete a hat-trick of victories, winning the very prestigious Group 2 £120,000 Mooresbridge Stakes for trainer Noel Meade, with regular rider Chris Hayes in the saddle.
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