Spring pointers in winter wonderland

It’s said good things come to those who wait. Peter Roe, manager of Fairyhouse Racecourse must have been beginning to question the legitimacy of the above line of thinking. In recent years, the Ratoath venue’s Winter Festival – their biggest and most important fixture outside of Easter – has been cursed with bad weather.Temptation was to say clouded by unhelpful elements but that would actually have been too close to the bone.

Don Cossack winning at Fairyhouse
For two consecutive years, the opening day of the two day meet was shrouded in such a dense fog that races could only be partially seen. On another occasion, the action was snowed off altogether.
No such problems this time round. Sun sparkled, crowds flocked and the action was utterly enthralling. If the weather being good was somewhat surprising, that Willie Mullins saddled the first two winners of the weekend certainly wasn’t. What did raise eyebrows, though, was to see two representatives of the dominant one so invitingly priced.
That last description couldn’t be attached to the Closutton bumper winner, mind you. It very rarely can in that sphere and if they are a fairly liberal price it’s usually a fair indicator that they are not among the yard’s top string therein.
Very quickly, it became obvious why Shaneshill went off such a warm order. He’d already won on debut but it was seeing him obliterate what looked as decent a bumper field as has been this year that suggested he may be above the ordinary. Hearing Paddy Mullins – even at this relatively early stage of the season – flag him up as a possible for the Cheltenham bumper in March only embellished such thoughts.
Day one was also a good one for the local fraternity. Andrew Lynch partnered the second of the decently chalked up Mullins winners – Smashing – while the good run of form enjoyed by Tony Martin’s string of late continued when Sraid Padraig belatedly got back to winning ways.
Noel Meade also had a decent day – albeit without hitting the target. Several of the Castletown man’s horses ran decent races in defeat – particularly Maxim Gorky and Perfect Smile. Both have had stop-start careers but should score in due course. Most noteworthy of all, perhaps, was the second placing of The Herds Garden in the finale. In view of the overtures about the winner of same, he could well be one to watch. Ditto Aidan O’Brien’s King Leon who came home third.
All comers were, however upstaged by south Dublin owner Barry Connell. Martin’s Sraid Padraig carried his familiar silks but, to my mind, the most significant performance of the day was that of another Connell owned horse – the aptly named Foxrock. Ted Walsh’s charge ran a very decent race behind Meade’s Road To Riches at Naas and was, so, justifiably a short priced favourite.
Horses don’t know their odds, of course, and turning into the straight it appeared Danny Mullins’ mount was going to finish a bad fourth at best. To the credit of horse and rider, in fairness, when the going got tough they got going and were, in fact, more comfortable winners than the margin suggested.
Act II was the big show however – a brilliant card including three Grade One contests. A day which provided plenty of spring pointers in what was a winter wonderland – and (thankfully) not a flake of snow in sight! The wonder being provided purely by the excellence of the equine entertainment ensuing.
Connell’s domination of proceedings continued when The Tullow Tank – in the care of Philip Fenton – proved he’s well on the way to being as good as the rugby player has named after when claiming the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle with more in hand than in seemed. Jezki was an impressive winner of the Hattons Grace but didn’t do enough to dissuade my thinking that the Champion Hurdle in Prestbury Park lies between Hurricane Fly and his stablemate, Annie Power.
The Drinmore Novice Chase was another great local affair. After seeing Foxrock triumph the day before, a sneaky feeling was had that Road To Riches might land the prize. Top jockeys don’t become same by making the wrong calls and in the end Davy Russell just about got it right when Gordon Elliot’s Don Cossack prevailed on the line.
John Kiely’s Carlingford Lough split the Elliot and Meade horses on this occasion. It’s worth noting that Paul Carberry made most of the running on the latter. The eventual third was only having his second start over fences too. Unseasonably quick ground may also have been a factor.

It’s probably not the last time they’ll meet. Gut feeling is that softer ground might throw up a different outcome. Roll on Leopardstown! 

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