Such was the quality of racing fair over the Christmas period it’s hard to know where to begin summarising it. So many highlights and a few disappointments too, but in those cases, hope abounds for the future. And, as ever, the local members of the racing fraternity left an indelible mark on proceedings.
Yet again though, it was Willie and Patrick Mullins and Ruby Walsh. Mostly due to the victories of horses like Arvika Legionnere, Back In Focus, Hurricane Fly and Zuzka. The latter being highly significant for Patrick as it broke Billy Parkinson’s almost 100 year old record for the number of winners partnered by an amateur jockey in a calendar year.
It was Noel Meade who got all the Christmas fare under way. Fittingly, too, with Leopardstown having launched their Festival in Tu Va in November. Methinks relief will have been the overwhelming emotion as Ned Buntline got his act together over timber having fluffed his lines badly at Fairyhouse. Admittedly, Dessie Hughes’ Bright New Dawn didn’t do the form any harm, but, Noel’s assertion that the horse was “The best I’ve had for quite a while” still needed proving. For now at least, the theory can’t be dismissed!
Texas Jack also ran with great credit for the Castletown handler and Mullaghnoe River was an impressive bumper winner, Pandorama and Thegreatjohnbrowne returned to the fray too, but the undoubted highlight had to be Monksland’s win. The Beneficial gelding has only tasted defeat twice (to Simonsig and Zaidpour, both useful beasts!) but, getting two pounds from the latter and taking advantage of that one’s dire record going left handed, Fairyhouse form was comfortably reversed. Thanks in no small part to a master class in the plate from Paul Carberry!
Connections were understandably cautious afterwards. This game can kick you quickly, as was tragically evidenced with Go Native. Having said that, with Big Buck’s out of the World Hurdle, surely it’s worth a tilt. The only regret here is not taking the 33/1 when the idea was hinted at early in the season.
Longwood based Gordon Elliott also had a great Christmas. His new recruit from the Flat in England, Flaxen Flame, was an impressive winner of the 3-year-old hurdle while Tarquinius emphatically scored in the Martinstown Handicap Chase with Dunshaughlin’s Keith Donoghue steering. Royal Sam, also trained locally by Gavin Cromwell, was a creditable fourth in the same contest and should pick up a race for his likable owners very soon.
There’ll always be disappointments though, and among the greatest of them was seeing the ever colourful Peter Casey’s dream for Flemenstar, his Dunsany owner Stephen Curran and Ashbourne jockey Andrew Lynch dashed. Having doubted whether the horse would stay three miles, yours truly now thinks given better ground he will. Talk of taking on Sprinter Sacre over two miles is daft however. The Ryanair Chase looks the obvious target.
Lynch gained deserved compensation aboard the evergreen Sizing Europe and his companion Sizing Gold – both trained by Henry De Bromhead – while Donoghue’s win for Elliott made up for the disappointment of seeing Jim Dreaper’s Harpsy Cord crash at the last with a valuable Limerick handicap at his mercy.
Team Dreaper gained compensation in the very next race down south, though, when Goonyella put in an outstanding first performance under rules – with the very promising Jamie Flynn up – claimed the Hunters Chase. Afterwards, Tom Dreaper, representing his dad, said: “He is a hardy horse who got a good ride from Jamie. He had been working well with Harpsy Cord at home and could be a horse for the Troytown or Thyestes next year. He will be aimed for some of the better hunter chases now”.
Fairyhouse native Arthur Moore was also among the winners when his Talbot Road took advantage of the early departure of the Ted Walsh trained favourite, Foxrock, to land a decent looking maiden hurdle on day three. Treat Yourself – also trained by Moore – performed well having collected twice recently while Organisedconfusion will presumably again be aimed at Aintree after a fine run in the Pertemps qualifier.
That race, however, provided what was the greatest local story of all with Clonee native Stephen Nolan – now based in Kilcock – training the biggest winner of his career to date in Prince Rudi. Nolan has revitalised the horse since taking over his care from Dessie Hughes. No more than that of camp Flemenstar, its such stories that make racing great.
The trainer, who has also enjoyed considerable success with horses such as Carlosantana and Shamiran, is now dreaming of his first Cheltenham Festival runner. It’s nearly time for the rest of us to start thinking about Prestbury Park and the second week of March too!