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Derek O Connor in action at Bellharbour. The Tubber jockey picked up the Senior Riders’ crown at the IrishPoint-To-Point awards, his third title in this category. Photograph by John Kelly

O’Connor takes senior rider title at point-to-point awards

It was time for the point-to-point fraternity to celebrate as the Irish National Hunt steeplechase Committee point-to-point Awards night made a welcome return last Saturday after a three-year absence.

A large crowd made their way to Dunboyne Castle in County Meath where the 2022 winners were honoured.

Tubber’s Derek O’Connor picked up the Senior Riders’ crown. This was third title in this category (he also won it in 2018 and 2019) as the former record-breaking 11-time champion finished the 2021/22 season with a fine tally of 25 wins.

Wexford jockey Barry O’Neill collected his sixth consecutive Leading Rider award, posting the huge tally of 61 winners during the season. O’Neill also claimed the Northern and Eastern Regional title, while sharing the Southern Regional title with Waterford jockey James Hannon. Tipperary rider Pa King came out on top in the Western Region.

Colin Bowe, was crowned Leading Handler – he was picking up his 10th title – having sent out 46 winners in a season where his Wexford yard was in top form.

Suzie Doyle – daughter of Holycross, Tipperary trainer Pat Doyle – took the Leading Lady Rider award with nine winners, while Cork man Brian Dunleavy was a clear-cut winner of the Leading Novice Rider category having partnered 13 winners.

Willie Mullins’ Cheltenham Festival winner Billaway garnered the Horse Of The Year award, while Sam Curling’s Le Feline was crowned Champion Mare, with Some Man successful for Fermanagh trainer David Christie in the Champion Pointer category.

Norman’s Pretender keeps on winning

Norman Lee’s Sole Pretender continued his climb up the chasing ranks when making it two wins from two starts over the larger obstacles in the opening Castlerea Novice Chase at Roscommon on Tuesday of last week.

A 150-rated six-time winner over hurdles, Sole Pretender has taken to fences like a duck to water.

Dispatched a prohibitive 2/9 favourite to account for his four rivals, Sole Pretender was ridden as he was on his fencing debut at Ballinrobe two weeks earlier by Simon Torrens.

A confirmed front-runner, the son of Gold Well bounced into an early lead, with his main market rival, Ferdia, in his slipstream.

The pair pretty much had the race between them, with Sole Pretender still holding the call as the duo turned their heads for home.

Rising to the third-last fence the Philip Donovan-ridden Ferdia (7/2) had drawn upsides Sole Pretender – he may even have edged marginally in front at one stage – and, fleetingly, it looked as if a shock might be on the cards.

Sole Pretender is a good horse, however, and the eight-year-old quickly responded when digging deep to eventually win a shade cosily when beating Ferdia by three lengths.

Speaking to The Clare Champion this week, Tubber-born Lee – who has 25 horses riding out at his Kilmacduagh, Gort yard – said: “We were delighted with the win. It’s hard when you’re such a hot favourite in a race like that, the runner-up is a good horse and you’re there to be shot at.

“The ground was as quick as we wanted it to be honest. Our horse handled it and has come out of the race very well, but he’d prefer a small bit of cut in it. Overall, we were satisfied and he’s two from two over fences, so that’s all we could ask for.”

While nothing has been set in stone as to where Sole Pretender – who races in the colours of Limerick man Michael Hogan – will turn up next, Lee conceded there are a few options on the table.

“Sole Pretender won the Grimes Hurdle in Tipperary 12 months ago and he’ll definitely get an entry in that again this time round. We’ll see what way that race is shaping up before we make any final decision.

“There a new Grade 3 Novice Chase on the Thursday of the Galway Festival that might be of interest to us too. Time-wise, it probably fits in nicely, but we’ll see how the next few weeks unfold. Sole Pretender has won nine races for us now, not too many horses do that!”

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