John Durkan Memorial

Punchestown Chase (Grade 1)

IN a vintage edition of the last major prize before Christmas the returning Allaho did what really good horses can do which is that innate capacity to dig out a victory without quite being at their best.

In a stellar field much of the focus was on the once great hope of Irish racing, Envoi Allen, but Henry de Bromhead’s chaser has more questions to answer after finishing only sixth in a race where fellow Cheveley Park Stud-owned runner Allaho led home a Willie Mullins one-two-three. A second successive winner of the race for Patrick Mullins, the 7/2 shot lined up with the single most impressive piece of form in the field which came when he ran riot in last season’s Ryanair at Cheltenham.

While that Prestbury Park effort was devastating, this performance was one of steely determination, as the front-runner pulled victory out of the fire without ever giving the impression that he had turned out in peak form. After setting what appeared to be a sensible gallop the winner showed a tendency to jump left at times and he looked to be in big trouble when Asterion Forlonge began to press him for the lead from four out.

The latter’s jumping frailties resurfaced at the next though as a bad mistake saw him part company with Bryan Cooper, to leave Allaho in a decent lead. The latter then clouted two out which gave Janidil a huge chance, but Allaho was moving on again as the final fence loomed and once he cleared that obstacle cleanly he kept on well to prevail by two lengths, with 50/1 shot Melon bouncing back to form with a big effort in third.

For his part Envoi Allen looked to be in trouble from around the third last and he was unable to raise his effort in the straight. The cloak of invincibility which he once carried with such swagger has disappeared.

“I was delighted to see him fight like that. I thought when Asterion Forlonge came upsides him that would knock the stuffing out of him but he just kept pulling it out. He was very lazy in front which isn’t like him and he jumped left which isn’t like him either but he still won,” reflected the champion trainer who was winning this race for the sixth time in seven years.

“I knew coming here today that our horses weren’t fully wound up and I’m really pleased with how they performed against some race-fit rivals at the start of their season.”

Meanwhile, Patrick Mullins added: “It was hard work. He never really carried me forward and was going left everywhere and never really had a cut at his fences but he was very tough. I’d he’s better than the bare form.

“I’m not sure why he jumped left and maybe he got lonely in front and I think he won despite not being at his best.”

Party makes it 10 for Elliott

PARTY Central put the seal on a tremendous weekend for Gordon Elliott as she got her season back on track in the Listed BetVictor Proud To Support Irish Racing Mares Novice Hurdle.

After coming up well short in a Grade 3 at Down Royal just over a month previously, the Bective Stud-owned mare showed her true colours here under Davy Russell.

When she strode into a clear lead after the second last she looked set to hand out quite a beating to her rivals, but the daughter of Yeats began to tie up in front on the run to the last and clung on at the line to hold off her stablemate Humble Glory by a head. In her defence though, the winner moved through this race like a very smart mare and could be considered better than the bare result.

“She’s a good mare and she was lame after the last day in Down Royal. That was much more like it from her and the aim would be the Mares’ Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham with one more run beforehand,” stated Elliott. “Davy felt he got there a bit soon but he just gave her a squeeze and she leapt onto the bridle and took him there.”

After his win in the opener at Cork, Elliott followed up in the first at Punchestown when Top Bandit (5/6) landed the BetVictor Loyalty Club Rated Novice Hurdle, which gave the trainer nine winners from the last nine races that he had contested.

This Andrew Brown-owned gelding enjoyed a straightforward time of things as he made it three wins on the spin. He eased clear of the field off the last bend and ran out a comfortable four-length winner over the front-running Hammersmith.

“He’s not a horse for real winter ground so he will have a break at some point but he’s progressing nicely and Davy felt he was in front sooner than ideal there but he had to go on when he did. He could be a horse for a nice handicap later in the season,” commented Elliott.

Hollow victory sends an ominous note to rivals

THE former Cheltenham bumper winner Ferny Hollow showed that a 13-month absence from the track has done nothing to dull his prowess as he made a winning start over fences in the BetVictor Beginners Chase.

Another winner for the axis of Cheveley Park Stud and Willie and Patrick Mullins, the six-year-old’s last outing yielded a Gowran maiden hurdle win over Bob Olinger and this competent display on his first outing over the larger obstacles suggested that he is more than ready to make up for lost time.

Ferny Hollow (4/9) steadily warmed to his task at the head of the field and especially pleasing was the manner in which he responded when Coeur Sublime moved past him after the second last. He was back in front at the last fence and kept on well to score by four lengths with a display which sounded an ominous note for any of his would-be rivals in the two-mile division.

The day concluded with an impressive winner for Paul Nolan as the newcomer Sandor Clegane made a highly impressive debut in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Auction (Pro/Am) Flat Race.

This €20,000 Goffs Land Rover Sale graduate stormed away from his rivals from the turn in to run out a 15-length winner under Barry O’Neill and this performance provided his connections with a welcome change of luck after the loss of Latest Exhibition the previous week.

“It’s a nice way to end a horrible week and he’s owned by virtually the same set of connections as Latest Exhibition. They are brilliant people and I can’t say enough about them,” declared Nolan who trains the winner for Kay Browne and Anne Coffey.

“He’s a nice horse who has always shown us plenty and he’d done that well. I must thank James Doyle for recommending him and we’ll probably keep him to bumpers this season.”

Castle soars to a super seventh win

GLENQUIN Castle (11/8) carved out his own place in racing folklore as he made it seven wins in a row in the Hanlon Concrete Handicap Chase.

After winning three handicap chases in the early autumn, Martin Brassil’s seven-year-old then did the same over hurdles and he transitioned seamlessly back to the larger obstacles under Mark Walsh. Glenquin Castle had yet to be asked for everything approaching the final fence where the exit of John Adams guaranteed him a victory.

There was further joy for McManus and Walsh earlier on the card as the well-backed Gain De Cause (7/2) in the second division of the Old House Kill Handicap Hurdle. After respectable efforts on his first two handicap outings, the Tony Martin-trained five-year-old took a significant step forward on his sixth career outing. He caught the eye throughout the race and led nearing the last flight before holding off the 50/1 top-weight, Bread And Butter. The winner appeals as one who can progress further this winter.

Shantou Lucky notched up his second success of the season as he pounced late in the first divide of that handicap hurdle. The 4/1 favourite had work to do approaching the straight but soon launched a strong charge under Conor Maxwell and edged ahead on the run-in for a neck success over the game Paddy Wickla. The winner is owned by the Lucky Seven Syndicate.

“He enjoys passing horses and I’d say he didn’t do much when he hit the front. Hopefully he can keep progressing and I think he will have no problem going up in trip,” declared Cromwell.