English raider The Listener ran out a facile winner of the Grade 1 Jnwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal on Saturday.
Ridden by Andrew McNamara, Nick Mitchell’s 7/1 shot had his task eased considerably when even-money favourite, Notre Pere, who was upsides the eventual winner at the time, crashed out at the fifth-last fence.
Unfortunately for Notre Pere’s trainer Jim Dreaper, his charge, who appeared to be travelling strongly, took an uncharacteristic liberty at this obstacle and paid the price when parting company with regular partner Andrew Lynch.
The market leader’s departure left The Listener in splendid isolation up front and he only had to safely negotiate the final four fences to beat Paul Nicholls’ runner, My Will, by five lengths. 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner War Of Attrition completed the minor placings when filling third under Davy Russell. Michael O’Leary’s 10-year-old ran his best race for some time here and the Hennessy at Newbury is now on his agenda.
An imposing grey, The Listener has always had a touch of class about him and the very soft underfoot conditions at the Northern track were right up his street.
It was also a welcome big-race success for his Dorset-based trainer Mitchell, who completed a fairytale afternoon when sending out Ellerslie George to land the Badger Ales Chase at Wincanton.
Later in the day, Paul Nicholls’ Herecomesthetruth (7/2) lowered the colours of last season’s Arkle winner Forpaddydeplasterer in the Grade 2 Ladbrokes.com Chase.
Christian Williams sent this Paul Barber and Harry Findlay-owned son of Presenting to the front from the outset and, despite wandering around a bit up front he passed the post five and a half lengths to the good over Copper’s 6/4 favourite.
The previous afternoon at the Northern venue, Voller La Vedette impressed when beating last season’s Supreme Novices’ winner Go Native in the WKD Core Hurdle.
Barry Geraghty, deputising for the sidelined Matt O’Connor, pushed this King’s Theatre five-year-old into the lead at the final flight and the 5/4 favourite pulled clear to see off Go Native by 13 lengths.
Winning trainer Colm Murphy mentioned the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle (won last season by Quevega) as Voler La Vedette’s likely Cheltenham target.
Murphy, who tasted Champion Hurdle success in the past with Brave Inca, has quite a few promising types in his Wexford yard at present and his Big Zeb earned a 4/1 quote for the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March after an impressive seasonal reappearance in Sunday’s Ladbrokes.com Fortria Chase at Navan.
Barry Geraghty was on board the 11/10 favourite, who eased to the front on the run-in to beat Made In Taipan by half a length, The Tingle Creek at Sandown may be the next port of call for this talented son of Oscar.
A feature of the National Hunt season so far has been the form shown by Tipperary trainer Edward O’Grady’s horses. His Ballynonty stable is flying at the moment and he notched a double (would have been a treble if Catch Me hadn’t fallen at the final fence with the two and a half-mile Beginners’ Chase at his mercy) at the Meath track on Sunday.
Recent Galway winner Judge Roy Bean (5/6F) started the ball rolling for the Thurles handler when coasting to a four and a half-length victory under the in-form Andrew McNamara in the For Auction Novice Hurdle.
The O’Grady/McNamara brace was completed as the odds-on Osana (4/6F) scored in the two-mile Beginners Chase.
This French-bred seven-year-old, who finished second to Katchit in the 2008 Champion Hurdle when trained by David Pipe, was having his first start for O’Grady and he could develop into a leading contender for the Arkle at Cheltenham in 2010.
Attention this weekend will focus on both Punchestown and Cheltenham’s three-day Open Meeting (Friday to Sunday), where there is terrific National Hunt action on offer.
The feature race at Prestbury Park is Saturday’s Paddy Power Chase, where Tranquil Sea, a recent winner at Limerick for Edward O’Grady, will carry Ireland’s best hope of success.
Enda Bolger will have his usual strong hand in Friday’s Cross-Country Chase, where the Limerick handler will be represented by Garde Champetre and Heads On The Ground, who have both won around this three-mile, seven-furlong obstacle course in the past.
The anticipated clash of last season’s Champion Chase 1-2, Master Minded and Well Chief, in Sunday’s Connaught Chase should prove another highlight of the weekend.
On the home-front, current Supreme Novices’ Hurdle ante-post favourite Dunguib features among the 17 entries for a winners’ hurdle at Punchestown on Saturday, while the exciting Willie Mullins’ inmate Hurricane Fly is scheduled to make his seasonal bow in the Morgiana Hurdle at the Kildare course the following afternoon.
O’Connor’s double strike at Roscommon
Leading jockey Derek O’Connor moved on to the 10-winner mark for the season when registering a double at last Sunday’s Roscommon Hunt point-to-point fixture at Rockfield.
The reigning champion, who scored aboard the Michael Hourigan-trained 2/1 favourite Cloughmile in the mares’ maiden at Templemore 24 hours earlier, paid his first visit of the afternoon to the winner’s circle when steering the impressive Tyrone Golden Rain (2/1-7/2) to an emphatic success in the winners-of-two contest.
Successful in a four-year-old maiden at Ballindenisk last season, Tyrone Golden Rain, who carries the silks of Craughwell, Galway furniture dealer John Curley, was having his first start since March here and really caught the eye when strolling to a five-length win over The Ferbane Man.
Obviously an animal with a bright future, the winner is trained by Paurick O’Connor, a brother of the winning rider, at his Tubber stables.
“This is a very good horse,” said the winning handler. “I wasn’t overly confident today, as all my horses have been under the weather of late, but this fellow was very good. Derek described him as a proper horse when he came back in and we’ll find another suitable point-to-point race for him in the next couple of weeks.”
O’Connor’s riding double was completed in the open lightweight where Top Twig justified good market support (6/4-4/5F) for Fermanagh trainer David Christie.
Recent Loughrea open winner Kingcliff set out to make all the running under Robbie Geoghegan in this competitive contest and the former Betfair Chase hero was still at the head of affairs approaching three-out.
Top Twig was travelling really well, however, and once O’Connor poked the 10-year-old through on the inner, the duo raced clear to beat Kingcliff by a very easy three lengths.
This was a top-drawer effort by the winner, who could play a big part in all the major hunter chase races in 2010, according to his trainer, who stated, “This horse is twice as good as he was last year.
“He enjoyed a much better summer break this time round and is repaying that kindness now.”
“We’ll find another open for him in the next few weeks and he’ll go for a hunter chase at Down Royal on St Stephen’s Day after that.
“There is a big race for him at Leopardstown after Christmas and the Foxhunter’s at Cheltenham could also be on his agenda,” concluded Christie.