BRYAN Cooper enjoyed a memorable opening day of the Winter Festival as he brought up a treble, achieved with three different trainers, which was headed by Dunvegan in the featured Easyfix Equine Handicap Chase over two miles.
This €40,000 Grade B contest saw Pat Fahy’s charge dropping back to the minimum trip for the first time in almost two years and the George Turner and Clipper Logistics-owned grey revelled in the return to this distance. The winner had also been in very good form on the flat in the autumn with an excellent third in the November Handicap and a fifth on Irish Champions Weekend among his efforts and provided further evidence that he is in the form of his life.
The well-backed 3/1 chance set out his stall from the outset by going straight to the front and in the straight he turned back one rival after another. The menacing favourite Buddy Rich was beaten off before the last and Dunvegan then sustained his effort in fine style to get home by a length from Grange Walk.
“When we ran him on quickish ground on the flat he wouldn’t even have a sore shin so we said we’d chance him on the ground and he loves it,” declared Pat Fahy. “He’s in the Paddy Power at Christmas but I’d rather see him doing that over shorter trips and he could be back here for the Dan Moore next month.”
Cooper’s treble pushed him past the 30-winner mark for the season and leaves him on course for his best tally since the 2016/17 campaign and it began with Noel Meade’s Lieutenant Command (8/1) landing the Jim Ryan Racecourse Services Beginners Chase.
After running a couple of respectable races at graded level in novice hurdles early last winter the Gigginstown House Stud-owned gelding struggled thereafter, but this was more like his true form.
The 8/1 shot went about the task at hand with some zest and appeared to enjoy every yard of the two-mile–five-furlong trip. He held the outright lead from early on and retained control of the race thereafter to defeat the favourite Max Flamingo by just under two lengths. A tilt at one of the Grade 1 novice chases at either Limerick or Leopardstown over Christmas could be next for the winner.
Grangee, a Grade 2 and Grade 3 bumper winner last season brought up Cooper’s treble in the second division of the St Peter’s Dunboyne GAA Maiden Hurdle over two miles. Odds of 2/7 suggested that the Syndicates Racing-owned mare faced a straightforward task and so it proved to be. She led early in the straight and was unextended to defeat Roaring Potter by five and a half lengths.
“She jumped fantastic. She’s not the biggest but she has a good technique. She loved the ground. I suppose we are planning back from the Mares’ Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham and this was a good start,” reported Willie Mullins’ son Patrick.
Grade 1 aspirations for Gringo
GORDON Elliott looked to have a strong hand throughout the card and he ended the day with a double which began with the promising Gringo D’Aubrelle (evens) in the first divide of the St Peter’s Dunboyne GAA Maiden Hurdle.
The impressive Navan bumper winner made the experience of his second to Blazing Khal in a Galway maiden hurdle in October count as he got the better of the Land Rover Bumper winner Adamantly Chosen by three-parts of a length, with the pair having gone toe to toe in the straight. Interestingly, the winner posted a time that was four seconds quicker than the other division of this race.
“He wants further and he’s a nice horse with a great attitude. He might be one for the Lawlor’s Hotel Novice Hurdle at Naas but I’ll speak to Noel and Valerie (Moran),” stated the trainer.
Elliott then added to his haul with Chemical Energy who took advantage of a drop in grade to win the two-and-a-half-mile rated novice hurdle. The Caldwell Construction-owned 7/4 favourite, who chased home My Mate Mozzie in the For Auction Novice Hurdle at Navan last time, was going nicely for Shane Fitzgerald turning for home and applied himself after the last to defeat the very useful Lunar Display by a length and a half.
“He’s a nice, honest horse who wants that ground and that sort of trip and when the ground changes he might have a little break before coming back for the spring festivals,” declared Elliott.
Nice Guy first
Elliott fielded three horses in his quest to land the Willie Elliott Memorial (Pro/Am) INH Flat Race – a race named after his late uncle – but the trio had to settle for second, third and fourth behind Mr Nice Guy (9/4) who completed a double for Willie Mullins.
The Malcolm Denmark-owned son of Fame And Glory seemed about to lose a good position approaching the last half mile but he fought his corner splendidly under Patrick Mullins. He led early in the straight and kept on tenaciously to defeat the favourite Santonito by two and a quarter lengths.
“He was in training all of last season and that really stood to him. He’s a light framed horse who likes that ground. Given he’s six he might go jumping now,” remarked the rider.
PHILIP Dempsey and his son Luke got amongst the winners with Broomfields Jeremy (13/2) in the 80-130 rated two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle. In a cracking finish the Raymond Fitzgerald-owned gelding moved to the front with a good jump at the last. Carrarea jumped that obstacle just as well and closed in menacingly as the line loomed but his effort came up a head short as the useful winner bagged the third success of his career.
Joanna Walton landed the lady riders’ handicap chase for the second time as she teamed up with Dermot McLoughlin’s Lord Lariat (9/2). O Connell Street gave this race a good go from the front but he was treading water at the last and the confirmed stayer Lord Lariat forged on for his Scottish-born rider in the closing stages to get home by half a length from the favourite Favori Logique. A trip to Leopardstown at Christmas could be on the agenda for the Pat Blake-owned winner.