CHAMPION rider Barry O’Neill made the journey to Portrush with four booked mounts and returned home with three winners, moving him to six for the season from only 13 rides, an incredible 46% strike-rate.

The opening four-year-old maiden saw Jack Hyde set a very strong pace under Darragh Allen but, coming to the final fence, there were still three horses in contention as the long-time leader had been joined by the Sean Doyle-trained South Omo Zone.

On the outside O’Neill had arrived with his challenge on the Colin Bowe-trained debutant Zefiro Dodville (7/2 - 4/1) who battled best to win for owner Brian Acheson.

“That rode like a really good race,” O’Neill said after dismounting from the Saint Des Saints gelding who had been purchased for €80,000 by Mags O’Toole as a three-year-old. “There was a strong pace from start to finish and that suited my lad as he is tough and honest. He probably has his job done for us now and will go on to his trainer but he will be a nice type.”

Rob James travelled north with Barry O’Neill and was also among the winners when he made all the running on the Sean Doyle-trained Beauty To Behold (2/1 - 3/1) who saw off the challenge of the favourite Call The Barmaid for owner Gearoid Doyle, who was in attendance having driven the mare to the races.

“She will most likely go to the sales now and that was great to see as some of ours had been sick last season as she was when she ran, but that was much more like what we have been seeing at home form her.”

Farrier strikes

The five-year-old maiden went to Castle Darragh (4/1 - 5/1) for local handler Paul McAleese, who is also a farrier and shoes for Paul and Beverley Caves, who are well known on the show jumping circuit and took their first step into racehorse ownership with this son of Watar.

Often exercising on the beach alongside this course, he had three runs last season but was making his debut for his new handler here and showed notable progression for the change by defeating Largy Legacy by a length and a half.

The winning owners were believed to be on a flight so missed this success but will have been delighted by the victory and sure to be on hand when he turns up in a winners’ race in the coming weeks.

Ideal return for Vaucelet

DAVID Christie was another northern handler on the scoreboard at the course, which is near his home, as he provided O’Neill with the final leg of his Portrush hat-trick courtesy of open winner Vaucelet (4/6 - 1/2 favourite).

Last season’s Punchestown Champion Hunter Chase runner-up and Stratford Foxhunters winner was sent off at what appeared to be somewhat generous odds of 1/2, given his accomplishments last term and he duly won accordingly.


Forced to make his own running, which did allow his rivals to challenge two out, he was always holding the upper hand and this was an ideal return to action as he accounted for Coastal Tiep by half a length.

“He is a quirky horse, as everyone saw in the parade ring beforehand where he can get a little impatient,” a relieved Christie admitted. “I just have to run him when he gets into that sort of form and I just hoped I had enough done with him as the top hunter chases are his real target this season.”

Perseverance pays off

CHARLES Keegan made the trip to Portrush from Templemore with his charge Autumn Philtre (3/1 - 4/1) for the concluding older horses’ maiden and gave Michael Sweeney the leg up in the parade ring but this was short-lived as the son of Kalanisi lost his rider when being shown the fence before the race.

It took some time before the loose horse was reunited with his rider but they went on to win by a comfortable six lengths over Wee Jerry. Keegan, who also owns the six-year-old, commented after the race: “I have to give Michael [Sweeney] a lot of credit here.

“He is a temperamental horse who we have had to change routine with a few times and he still managed to get loose today.

“Michael did everything right and I’m grateful to him and delighted for him as he is a really big help to me.”

Keeping up the pressure

CAROLINE McCaldin is one handler returning exceptional statistics in the early stages of the new campaign as she recorded her third winner of the season in as many weekends with Faith Loving (5/4 - 1/1 favourite) taking the winners of three race under Noel McParlan.

It was the seven-year-old gelding’s fourth win from seven outings while McCaldin was training her third winner from just nine runners this term.

The Alan McCaldin-owned gelding had just one rival to overcome in the shape of the David Christie-trained Ferns Lock who was less experienced. Faith Loving was a little more professional than his rival to prevail by two and a half lengths.

The handler said: “I’m thrilled with that and Noel [McParlan] was very good on him to maximise his experience and he felt he was at his best here as some of last season he had been below par even though his results were good. I’m doubly delighted as Hermes Allen has just won impressively for Paul Nicholls at Stratford. He won for us at Kirkistown and sold well so it’s important that he fulfils his potential as we thought a lot of him.”

Horse To Follow

Jack Hyde (R. Moloney): This Soldier Of Fortune gelding set a strong tempo in the opener. While he jumped well for the most part, he was a shade slower than his chief rivals over the last two fences and was only beaten by under two lengths. He can go on to enjoy a successful career, it would seem.