CLARE jockey Derek O’Connor reached another landmark in his remarkable career when riding his 600th point-to-point winner aboard John Brassil’s 5/1 shot Carrigerry in the first division of the mares’ winners’ race at last Sunday’s Duhallow Foxhounds’ fixture at Dromahane, County Cork.
O’Connor has really taken the pointing world by storm since posting his first success aboard Rossy Orchestra as a rookie17-year-old in an older mares’ maiden at Killaloe back in 2000.
It is fair to say that 27-year-old O’Connor has already established himself as the finest point-to-point riders this country has ever seen. That is a bold statement to make given that such luminaries as Ted Walsh, Enda Bolger, Tony Martin and John Berry feature among those that have gone before him but few can argue given the range of talents and the astute racing brain O’Connor has demonstrated in the saddle up and down the country over the past decade.
Last Sunday, O’Connor was at at his confident best aboard Carrrigerry (5/2F) when guiding this daughter of Houmayoun, who carries the colours of Quin Road, Ennis businessman Padraic Fannin, to an emphatic victory.
Settled at the tail end of the 11-runner field in the early stages, Carrigerry began to make steady progress heading toward the home turn before drawing clear from two out to beat runner-up Eileensbirthday by five lengths.
Winning trainer Brassil, whose Newmarket-on-Fergus yard is in flying form at the moment, said, “This is a very nice mare. She won her maiden around here and obviously likes the place. We might go again with her at Dawstown next weekend as she didn’t have a hard race today.”
Later in the afternoon, O’Connor made inroads into his seventh century when bringing Lord Alfie (7/2) home in front in the second division of the concluding six-year-old geldings’ maiden. The winner, who is trained at Cloyne in East Cork by Bluesea Cracker’s Irish Grand National-winning handler James Motherway, hit the front two out and ran on with real resolution from there to beat the Mikey O’Connor Quelas by five lengths.
Sunday’s double leaves six-time champion O’Connor on the 80-winner mark for the season and well on his way to seventh consecutive jockeys’ championship.
Former Clare and Sixmilebridge hurling star, Noel Casey, was among the winners at last Sunday’s Stonehall Harriers fixture at Ballysteen, Askeaton where his horse, Bridge Street Trio, made a winning debut in the second division of the five-year-old geldings’ maiden for the now retired garda.
Ridden by Mallow jockey James ‘Corky’ Carroll, Bridge Street Trio (4/1-6/1) ran on powerfully on the uphill climb to the post to hold the renewed challenge of runner-up Perky Bob by half-a-length.
The successful son of Commander Collins is trained in Croom, County Limerick by ex-jockey Joey Casey, who stated, “We’ve always held a high opinion of this horse and, thankfully, he proved us right today. I was slightly worried about his jumping but he was good in that department and will develop into a smart chaser over longer distances in the years ahead.”
Mullins dominates Punchestown
LAST week’s highly successful Punchestown Festival can be summed up best in two words – Willie Mullins.
Having saddled a dozen winners at Punchestown 2009, it was felt, even by Mullins himself, that it would be nigh impossible to repeat that feat this time round but the Carlow handler matched his remarkable tally of last year as he once again ended the festival with 12 winners.
Throw in the fact that five of those successes were in Grade 1 races and it is easy to see why former champion amateur has become the darling of the betting public in this country.
Pride of place over what was a remarkable week for the Closutton trainer at the Kildare track must go to his Hurricane Fly in last Friday’s Rabbobank Champion Hurdle.
Without a run since beaten into third in the Morgiana Hurdle at Fairyhouse back in November, Hurricane Fly (3/1) was facing a top-class field here that included last year’s winner Solwhit, star novice Dunguib and former Champion Hurdle winner Punjabi.
Davy Russell really threw down the gauntlet to his rivals when surging Solwhit into what looked a winning lead after the second last. Jumping the final flight, Solwhit was still in command but had both Hurricane Fly and Mullins’ County Hurdle winner, Thousand Stars, bearing down on him at a mighty rate. For a few strides, it looked as if Solwhit might hang on but Paul Townend, who had a wonderful week deputising for the sidelined Ruby Walsh, wasn’t done with on Hurricane Fly and the pair swept past in the final 100 yards to score by a neck. Thousand Stars ran the race of his life under Katie Walsh to fill third a further two lengths in rear.
For Hurricane Fly, this was redemption. Mullins had been toying with the idea of rushing him back to be ready for Cheltenham but his patience paid off in a big way and now Hurricane Fly must be on the shortlist for next year’s Champion Hurdle.
Spare a thought also for Solwhit. Charles Byrnes’ charge, who ran below-par in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last month following a late injury scare, bounced back to his best form in this contest and remains a top-class hurdler.
What of Dunguib? Philip Fenton’s stable star pulled like a train all during the race and it came as no surprise that, when push came to shove early in the home straight, he dropped away tamely to finish sixth.
If Dunguib is to make it in the big time over hurdles, he will have to settle in his races. Obviously, he is not straight-forward and the seven-year-old, who went off a well-backed 5/2 favourite (from 4/1), uses far too much energy for his own good as he fights for his head and that is a problem that will have to be sorted out if the 2009 Cheltenham bumper winner hopes to fulfil his enormous potential.
Mullins signalled his intentions as early as the opening day of the five-day meeting when registering a treble on Tuesday that included a 12/1 victory for Golden Silver in the Grade 1 Boylesports.com Novice Chase.
Dual Cheltenham winner Quevega stamped herself a top mare over hurdles when turning in a brilliant display to land Thursday’s Ladbrokes.com World Series Hurdle.
Stepping up to three miles for the first time, Paul Townend’s mount travelled like a winner all the way before taking over off the home turn en-route to an effortless three-length success over UK raider Bensalem.
There were other highlights during the week like Edna Bolger’s 12th success (from the last 13 runnings) in the La Touche Cup on Thursday. John Thomas McNamara led home a Bolger 1-2 here as L’Ami beat stable companion Freney’s Well (who returned to score on Saturday) to maintain Bolger’s stranglehold on this cross-country highlight of the season.
English-trained Planet of Sound sprung a 14/1 surprise for his trainer Philip Hobbs to land Wednesday’s Punchestown Guinness Gold Cup where Mouse Morris’ War Of Attrition bowed out in great style with a fantastic effort in second.
The big talking point of this contest was the display of former Gold Cup winner, Denman. Tony McCoy’s mount hung like a gate all the way round and lost an enormous amount of ground when consistently jumping out to the left. To his credit, he finished sixth and it may be safe to assume that Paul Nicholls’ chaser will stick to going right-handed from now on.