A BUMPER crowd gathered on the grounds of Wilson Dennison’s for the first day of the inaugural East Antrim Hunt sanctioned Loughanmore Easter fixture, with an eight-race card required to accommodate the 78 thoroughbreds declared.

Handler Stuart Crawford has sent out some smart prospects in recent years at this venue, with his Malone Road and It’s For Me both previous graduates of the venue.

The Newlands Farm-based team look to have another very smart recruit on their hands as the newcomer Jasmin De Vaux (5/1 - 7/1) produced a visually impressive performance in the first division of the four-year-old geldings’ maiden.

The imposing son of Tirwanako was one of eight newcomers in this 11-runner contest and this €28,000 acquisition jumped impeccably and travelled like a dream throughout.

The highly-regarded gelding made rapid progress to lead two-out and from then on, he always looked the likely winner. The margin extended on the home straight and with Ben Crawford motionless in the saddle, five lengths was the margin back to stablemate Largy Poet at the line.

“I am delighted with him there; he is up there with our best four-year-olds,” said Stuart Crawford, who sent out Largy Shark to win a novice hurdle at Carlisle shortly beforehand.

Derek O’Connor showed his class by recording a treble at the meeting which has contributed to a majestic 31 per cent strike rate for him this season. O’Connor’s treble was initiated by Nativehill (11/4 - 9/4 favourite) in the second division of the five-year-old geldings’ maiden.

The half-brother to Grade 1 winner Bellshill had ground to make up after the second last but was driven into third. With the unlucky Grangeclare Diego slipping-up on the home bend, he was left second and picked up smoothly to win very snugly at the finish under hands and heels, showing a classy turn of foot in the process, with one and a half lengths the distance back to the gallant Mileview.

“He’s got everything, he has a great confirmation of size and temperament, and I can see him going forward. He could be a very good horse,” said Colin McKeever who teamed up with landowner Wilson Dennison to record a brace courtesy of Ballymackie (1/1 – 4/7 favourite).

The recent facile Punchestown maiden winner justified notable market support in the winners’ of two.

Patiently handled early in the race, O’Connor seized the initiative to make progress to track the trailblazing leader Golden De Coeur from half-way. A quick jump two out put the gelding in good stead and with a shove of the reins from his rider approaching the home turn, he soon headed the long-time leader, and with a slicker jump at the last victory was sealed with more ease than the winning margin of a length and a half suggested.

It was the top-class open mare La Feline (1/2 - 2/5 favourite) who added to O’Connor’s success in the mares’ open.

The daughter of Martaline made this her ninth open victory as once asked for her effort after two out, she effortlessly breezed into a share of the lead, and when Rose Of Coolbally exited at the last, she returned two lengths clear of The Forge Hill for Sam Curling and John O’Leary.

Caherty delivers for Quinn stable

THE Ger Quinn stable has sent out some nice types this season, and it’s clear quality is in abundance at the Broughshane stable. The trend continued as the debutant Caherty (6/1 - 4/1) ran out an easy winner of the first division of the five-year-old geldings’ maiden.

The son of Affinisea was acquired for €20,000 as a foal by John Donaghy and has since joined prominent owner Philip McBurney.

The bay gelding who is out of a half-brother to the eight-time winner Royal County Star, was prominently ridden throughout before hitting the front after the fifth last.

The gelding was clearly travelling with plenty of purpose at the second last and looked the most likely winner. Approaching the straight he was gathered together by Noel McParlan and asked to extend at the bypassed last which saw him shoot into a five length advantage over El Baraka, who was unable to match the winner’s turn of foot on the flat.

The renowned Wexford-based horseman Benny Walsh sent out Star Of Hoiho (5/1 - 13/2) to strike at the second time of asking in splendid fashion in the opening four-year-old mares’ maiden.

The daughter of Hillstar, who was ridden, handled and owned by Walsh, picked up very stylishly approaching the home straight to head the long-time leader Geturguccion.

By the line, seven lengths was the distance back to the running on second El Fabienne.

“She will make a lovely, classy mare on the track. She stays very well and possesses the ideal speed and stamina mix,” Walsh said.

County star makes impressive debut

THE Baltimore Stables team of Ellen and James Doyle are responsible for producing some very smart prospects and another exciting recruit was unleashed in the form of I Play County (4/1 - 11/2) in the first division of the four-year-old geldings’ maiden.

One of nine newcomers in the line-up and this €38,000 Tattersalls sale acquisition was prominently ridden by Brian Dunleavy, and was always travelling at his ease.

Hitting the front with a slight advantage at the last, he knuckled down strongly to the task and battled well to the line to see of the rallying Clondaw Royale by two lengths.

“I’d say if I wanted to win by further, I easily could have. We thought a lot of him at home,” said Brian Dunleavy after his 10th winner of the season.

The Neville Reid-owned and bred The Gambler (7/1 - 8/1) was a commanding victor in the five-year-old mares’ maiden. Waited with under Declan Lavery, the daughter of Workforce, who was handled by the shrewd Pat Turley, made stylish progress from three out to catch the eye.

Approaching the home turn it only looked a matter of time before her jockey pushed the button as she was travelling all over the eventual second Foxylee, and the mare soon kicked clear to record a six and a half-length success.

Horse to Follow

Grangeclare Diego (D.P. Murphy): The son of Mount Nelson was travelling ominously well to the home bend before slipping up on the turn when about to dispute and can make amends next time out.