QUIN trainer Donie Hassett enjoyed some festive cheer as his 12-1 shot Night Alliance ran out a very easy winner of the Woodlands House Hotel Handicap Hurdle on day three of the Limerick festival on Monday.
Owned by the One More Go Syndicate, Night Alliance travelled strongly throughout this two-mile, five-furlong contest under Galway-born jockey Tom Ryan and, having hit the front off the home turn, the son of Pierre surged clear for an eight-length win over runner-up, Man Of Principles.
A fourth winner of the season for Hassett, Night Alliance, who was making his handicap debut here off a mark of 88, will stick to handicaps in the near future, according to his trainer, who remarked, “This fellow is an out and out stayer and appreciated the step-up in trip here today. He is only a four-year-old and we’ll aim him at some of the handicaps over longer distances in the months ahead.”
Meanwhile, Dancing Tornado credited local trainer Michael Hourigan with big race success when storming to victory in the featured Grade 2 Greenmount Park Novice Chase at Limerick on St Stephen’s Day.
This meeting went ahead despite the cold snap but at a price with 27 horses withdrawn, as trainers could not get their intended runners to the track owing to the frosty roads.
That mattered little to Hourigan, who trains just five minutes from the course, and he took full advantage when David Casey sent the JP McManus-owned 100-30 shot to the head of affairs on the run to the final fence. He stayed on in the manner of a pretty smart sort when passing the line four lengths to the good over Tom Cooper’s River Liane.
The winner looks to have a future over the larger obstacles and will now step up in class with a view to contesting some of the better races in the second half of the season.
Half an hour earlier, 7-4 favourite Rigour Back Bob, part-owned by current Galway senior hurling manager John McIntyre, landed his second race in six days when following up a Thurles success of six days earlier with a gusty victory under jockey Seán Flanagan in the O’Kelly Bros Contractors Hurdle.
Proving anything but fluent in the jumping department, Rigour Back Bog had to overcome a horrendous blunder at the penultimate flight before asserting close home to deny runner-up Der Spieler by three lengths.
Sunday’s feature at Greenmount Park was the Tim Duggan Memorial Handicap Chase, with victory here going to Eric McNamara’s well-backed 11-2 shot Larkwing under a confident ride from promising seven-pound claimer Robert Jones, who is attached to McNamara’s Rathkeale yard.
Down Royal’s St Stephen’s Day fixture was postponed by 24 hours to Sunday due to weather conditions, with Derek O’Connor justifying his long haul north when taking the concluding bumper aboard 14-1 chance Yes Tom.
Trained in Larne, County Antrim by Robert Wilson, the 14-1 winner took over five furlongs out and made the best of his way home to beat Courtly Conduct by a length and three-quarters.
Sizing Europe maintains unbeaten run
There were many equine stars on show at Leopardstown over Christmas with Sizing Europe maintaining his unbeaten run over fences when landing the Grade 1 Bord Na Mona with Nature Novice Chase on St Stephen’s day, but, in doing so, he had a large slice of luck on his side.
Henry De Bromhead’s charge made if four from four over fences but appeared to be in trouble when tackled by Captain Cee Bee at the final fence, only for that rival to crash out, allowing the even-money favourite coast to a five-and-a-half-length win over runner-up Osana.
Other significant winners on the opening afternoon were Gordon Elliott’s 20-1 shot Carlito Brigante, who proved way too good for Alaivan in the Grade 2 Juvenile Hurdle, and Dermot Weld’s newcomer Elegant Concorde, an impressive winner of the concluding bumper.
Day-two at the Foxrock venue belonged to former jockey Martin Lynch, who recorded the biggest win of his training career to date when sending out the Robbie Power-ridden Oscar Time to land the €190,000 Paddy Power Chase. The Grade 1 Paddy Power Dial-a-Bet Chase was won in good fashion by Golden Silver, who credited Willie Mullins with yet another big-race success when getting the better of Tranquil Sea, while 25-1 shot Hallo Ladies sprung a surprise when scoring for Noel Meade in the Grade 1 Paddypower.com Poker Novices’ Hurdle.
Clarecastle bookmaker Neil Casey, who is a member of the successful Fat Frog Syndicate, was on hand to lead in the horse he part-owns, Powerstation, after the 9-1 shot landed the Grade 2 Woodies DIY Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown on Monday.
This three-mile contest was a real test of stamina, with Powerstation running on best in the closing stages under a strong Andrew McNamara drive to beat Oscar Dan Dan by a length and a quarter.
The winner, who is trained in Tipperary by Eamonn O’Connell, has a terrific record at Cheltenham and will head back to Prestbury Park in March for a clash with Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle.
The Grade 1 Lexus Chase, which had to be postponed when thick fog forced the cancellation of the final three races on Monday’s card, was run on Tuesday, with victory going to Paul Nicholls’ UK raider, What A Friend.
Sam Thomas came in for the plum ride on the Sir Alex Ferguson-owned 11-2 shot, who beat fellow English raider Money Trix (14-1) by half a length, with long-time leader Joncol fading in the closing stages to fill third for Paul Nolan.
Six went to post in the Grade 1 Leopardstown Golf Centre December Festival Hurdle, where odds-on shot Solwhit, (8-11F) trained in Ballingarry, County Limerick by Charles Byrnes and ridden by Davy Russell, underlined his Champion Hurdle claims with a smooth one-length win over Sublimity.
A classy sort, Solwhit, who will return to Leopardstown in four weeks’ time for the Irish Champion Hurdle, ticks all the right boxes where the Champion Hurdle is concerned and is now a best-priced 6-1 for the event on March 16.
Kauto joins the greats with King George romp
Kauto Star joined the immortals when becoming the first horse to land four King George VI chases in a row with a brilliant display at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day.
Nothing about this horse should surprise racing fans but it is fair to say his performance last Saturday was on a par, if not better, than anything he’s done in the past.
This was as good a King George field as one could expect, yet he put them to the sword in breathtaking fashion.
Ruby Walsh was content to let the dual-Gold Cup winner bowl along in a nice rhythm until he elected to let the nine-year-old pick up the front-running Nacarat on the run to three out. From here, it was only a matter of how far as Walsh aimed the superstar at the winning post and he did the rest. Well clear approaching the notoriously tricky final fence at the London track, only a disaster stood between Kauto Star and victory, but he jumped this obstacle clean and fast en-route to a facile 36-length win over runner-up Madison Du Berlais.
A full-house attendance of 22,000 racing fans were present to witness Kauto Star re-write the history books and they were in full voice as the Clive Smith-owned French-bred returned to a tumultuous reception in the winner’s enclosure.
Winning trainer Paul Nicholls said, “He has saved the best for today. I don’t know about him going backwards, he seems to be going forwards if anything.
“Everything he did at home in the past two weeks suggested he was in the form of his life and he proved it out there today. He will now head to the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March and if we can get himself and Denman there in good order, we are going to have some fun.”
Winning jockey Ruby Walsh has really enjoyed a wonderful rapport with Kauto Star and little wonder he didn’t hesitate in praising the horse that has brought him so much success.
“He never missed a beat today,” said Walsh. “He’s an unbelievable horse. You think some day he can’t be as good but today he turned up better than ever. To win four King Georges one after another is unbelievable.”
There is no doubt that Kauto Star is a real bonus for National Hunt racing. The word ‘legend’ is often bandied about in a careless fashion of late but mentioning Kauto Star in the same breath as the legendary Arkle must now be permitted.
The support act to Kauto Star’s one-man show at the London track was the Christmas Hurdle, where Go Native credited Noel Meade and Davy Condon with big-race success.
Meade has a terrific record in this race with the Meath handler claiming his fourth win in six years as Condon produced Go Native with a strong challenge to beat Starluck by a short-head. Binocular filled third a further length in rear.
This was Go Native’s second big hurdle win this season having claimed the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle last month and this leaves the Double Eclipse six-year-old, who won the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham festival, in line for a £1 million bonus if he goes on to land the Champion Hurdle in March.