The Clare challenge for the National Coursing Meeting, which gets under way in Clonmel next Monday, was given a boost following the final trial stakes of the season last weekend.
Three new names were added to the list, giving Clare five interests in the Derby, two in the Oaks and three in the Grace Bruton Memorial Champion Bitch stakes.
However, the draw for the classics in Clonmel on Monday night was not kind. Winners last weekend, Him Over There and Colossal Storm were the first pair out of the hat.
Both are from the Ennis kennels of George Gallery and owned by the Hey You Sir syndicate and the Colossal syndicate, both from Ennis.
The winner of the this buckle could have a second-round date with Medieval Quarter, one of four qualifiers from the Cillowen Harbour-Lantern Girl litter and bred by Patricia Ryan and Leona Ryan from Ennis, who also own Colossal Storm with Niall Warren, Kilmaley.
Also drawn in this first quarter is the Pat Curtin-trained Ibrickane Pat, owned by the Quilty syndicate. He goes to slips with the Old Kilcullen qualifier, Wilton Herald.
Another runner in this quarter, Mailroad George, is also from the Cillowen Harbour-Lantern Girl litter.
Meeting in the third quarter are Oilean Fantasy, the Castleisland qualifier owned by Sixmilebridge native Gerry Meehan, and the Pat Curtin-trained Ashtown Rusty.
The last two to be drawn in the Derby were Upsetter, the Liscannor qualifier owned by Miltown Malbay native Paddy Meade, and Beyond Gaisce who came through the Rathcormac meeting,
Matts Jet, trained by Joe Collins, Parteen, for the Shanakyle syndicate, is still first reserve. Reserve number three is I Say So and number six is Clune Hyland, both of whom won reserve trial stakes in West Clare.
One of the leading fancies for the Derby, Silent Turbo, was withdrawn on Monday after suffering a leg injury.
In the first quarter of the Hotel Minella Oaks, the Killimer-owned Scattery Express, a winner at Liscannor, faces a tough task against Go Nina, the second favourite for the classic.
The favourite, Newinn All Inn, also runs in his quarter and also faces a tough assignment against Needham Time.
Burnpark Sadie, who won the Tubbercurry final last Saturday for the Browne family from near Kilmihil, will not face too much of a disadvantage when coming up against Spruce Storm as she also qualified at the same venue when winning the Ballymena ticket.
Cleanaway Smurf, carrying the interests of John O’Donoghue, Cree and Kingsmill Bliss, will probably start the top two in the betting for the Champion Bitch stakes.
The chances of another Clare victory in this event are promising.
In the top half, Cleanaway Smurf meets Abbeyglen Judy and the Pat Curtin trained Ashtown Amy is paired with Marshals Pearl.
In the bottom half, Doctor Morrissey is drawn against Kingsmill Bliss and Oilean Dreamer, owned by Gerry Meehan from Sixmilebridge, faces the challenge of Blades of Glory.
Order of running Monday (11.30am), once through Hotel Minella Oaks, Boylesports Derby and Spirit of Mischief Stakes.
Tuesday (11.30am), twice through Hotel Minella oaks, Boylesports Derby Kitty Butler Stakes, TA Morris Stakes and Keen Laddies stakes.
Wednesday (11.30am) start with Spirit of Mischief Stakes, Keen Laddies Stakes, Kitty Butler Stakes and complete card.
Judges; J O’Connell and L Kelly; Slippers T Murphy and R Quinn.
A road well travelled for O’Donoghue
For Cree businessman John O’Donoghue the road to Clonmel is well travelled.
However, it isn’t his interests in the recycling industry that takes him to the foothills of the Comeragh Mountains the first week of February but rather his other passion – the sport of coursing.
And this year, like the previous two, John will have a dog going to slips when he returns with the Gerry Holian-trained Cleanaway Smurf (Bexhill Eoin-Uptown Smurf) for a crack at The Grace Bruton Memorial Champion Bitch Stakes.
Interestingly, just 12 months ago his twin daughters, Jenna and Ruth, went to the penultimate buckle in the same stake with Jeru (Matt Hyland-Atlantic Beauty), a bitch that had won all-age events at Liscannor, Miltown Malbay and Ennis-Clarecastle.
However, Cleanaway Smurf, which John part owns with Finbar O’Connor from Millstreet, left it late to qualify for Clonmel, only securing the necessary points in the final week of the season at the Sevenhouses meeting.
“I suppose we did cut things a bite fine but there wasn’t much we could do about it,” John concedes. “We had her entered in the cup in South Clare, where she had won her trial stake. Both Finbar and I wanted to take our chances but Gerry Holian wasn’t happy to run her. He wanted to hold on and wait.
“I suppose you could say ‘a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still’. Well, we held off and the ways things turned out, he was right,” acknowledges John, who is chairman of the South Clare Coursing Club.
While the owners admitted to getting a little anxious, panic didn’t set in. They had great faith in Gerry Holian’s judgement and respected his call. But then the cold snap hit.
“When the weather changed for the worst, we thought we were snookered. We had planned to take her to Sevenhouses, a good long field, but we didn’t know if the weather would break in time. Thankfully, the thaw set in and the meeting went ahead,” explains John.
Cleanaway Smurf was entered in the Seamus Hughes Memorial Cup, a 32-dog event. She was two points shy of qualification for the champion stakes, so the prerequisite was to emerge from her quarter. But she did better; she reached the final and was then withdrawn.
“Our bitch is slow away. She takes a few strides before she gets going so she needs a good long field to open up. Sevenhouses is that, every yard as long as Clonmel and every bit as tough.
“She ran well and went to the final. She had the points she needed at that stage so we withdrew her from the final. We could afford to do so. The last thing she wanted was another run up the field a few weeks away from Clonmel,” Johns adds.
Indeed, Cleanaway Smurf, a half-sister to last year’s Irish Cup finalist Johnny Casanova, has been lightly coursed this year, making just three appearances. She ran unsighted in the final of the Connacht Cup at Loughrea before romping to victory in Carlow. Each time, the field was crucial in the selection of where she ran.
John reckons the bitch will love Powerstown Park, having acquitted herself well in the Hotel Minella Oaks last year. She went out in the third round to the eventual winner Fortuna (Tynwald Smokey-Simpliu), owned by Bridget Frank in Loughrea. “The longer the field, the better, that’s why I think she will run well in Clonmel.
“We are very pleased with her preparations and the emphasis now will be on keeping her fresh. We’ve no real worries heading for Clonmel. She’s in the hands of a good trainer in Gerry Holian. There’s no need to tell him what to do; he has that well proven.
“Of her chances, we’d be more hopeful than confident. The other seven bitches are there on merit but in coursing you never know,” John adds.