FOLLOWING a successful Irish-American weekend, horsemen chose to rest most of the better horses ahead of last Sunday’s meeting.

Jonny Cowden has pulled his way to the front in the race for the national leading driver award, although it’s still early days.

The eye-catching performance of the meeting was a win from off the pace by the Lawrence Stewart-trained Always Skye. The daughter of Always B Miki was the opening leg of a double for Jonny.

Last season the stallion Sweet Lou took all the headlines in Ireland and Britain. This year, Always B Miki, also managed by Oakwood Stud in Offaly, seems to be fighting back. Over the weekend Always B Miki was the sire of six winners between here and in Britain. Oakwood Hey Miki and the impeccably-bred Enigmatic (out of Another Mattie) both won for the powerful Laidler stable across the water.

Lawrence Stewart is a victim of his own success with Sweet Caroline, 2023 IHRA Horse of The Year. The filly was recently sold to be trained by Ballydehob-born Robbie Cleary in the USA. By way of consolation the owners of Sweet Caroline sent their Always Skye to Coleraine and the tutelage of this dedicated trainer.

Lightning might strike twice in the same place as Always Skye blitzed her six rivals in the E to F pace. Perhaps Lawrence can run up a sequence with the ‘new mare’ in 2024? Ayr Corleone went off 4/6 favourite yet did not race with his usual aggressive style. Rugadh Me Reidh (John Richardson) stayed on well for the silver medal.

“She’s a lovely mare,” said Lawrence Stewart. “We head to the North Wales championship next.”

Gamble landed

Cowden’s double came when he drove Gamin Marandais to take the top-grade trot for Keith McCullough, originally from Belfast’s Shankill Road who nowadays resides in North Down.

Keith’s father Eddie ‘Aber’ McCullough was in attendance. The McCulloughs are nothing if not game and left their mark in the betting ring - 2/1 to evens tells the tale.

“He trotted great, hopefully there’s more to come,” stated Jonny Cowden, who also rides out in the Stuart Crawford National Hunt yard.

The Glengormley-based driver proved that he is mortal, enduring a slight disappointment when Sweet Dreams was overturned at 1/2 in the Grade G pace. The race went to Priceless (7/4) from the Duggan, Galbally yard. The tall daughter of Sweet Lou earned a couple of paragraphs in this column three weeks ago when she napped at the start in Appleby. Even in her moment of triumph on Sunday she was looking to run out and it took all of Billy Roche’s guile to keep her interested.

Simon Duggan’s wife Julie could afford to joke in the winner’s circle: “She’s a misunderstood female, it’s a hormonal thing.” The punters weren’t as empathetic in Appleby!

Runner-up Sweet Dreams is a year younger than Priceless. Her trainer Neville Martin from Ederney is a good sportsman and the mare will more win races through the summer.

Expensive purchase

The meeting commenced with a win for Ruari McNulty’s Oakwood Carmelita. The win meant more than the bare statement as she still holds the record (£75,000) as the most expensive yearling ever sold in Ireland or Britain. Horses can’t read the sales results and she met problems at two and three. Happily, the beautifully-gaited Foreclosure filly won in nice fashion from Meadowbranch Lilmil (John Richardson) in 2m 3.7secs.

Veteran reinsman Alan Wallace senior was in the bike. “She’s a lovely mare and will only improve,” was his post-race comment.

Few families put in the time and attention to their horses as the Coreys from Mallusk. Adam Corey got off the mark for the season when he gave Franchan De Roche a patient drive to win the G to F grade trot.

Immaculata put in a clear round of trotting for ‘JR’, and looked home and hosed down by the fir trees. However Adam timed his run well and ran out a one-length winner in 2.41.5 for the mile and a quarter. The 4/5 favourite Corail De Bellande (Alan Wallace junior) broke at the start. That’s why it’s called trotting.

John Richardson gained swift compensation as his home-bred mare Shesnoaprilfool picked up the highest grade pace on the card. Stable companion Lakeside Paddy stayed on well for Welsh owner Allan Davies, Charlie Flanagan was in the sulky.

Racing continues today with an unfortunate fixture clash. Annaghmore will feature the Liam Wallace Next Generation Pace for young drivers. Meanwhile, the Old Chapel committee have arranged eight trophies and plenty of added money at the Lyre race field.


2024 National Harness Driver Award

(as of June 12th)

Driver Wins

Jonny Cowden, Glengormley 9

Patrick Kane junior, Trim 6

Jamie Hurley, Reenascreena 5

Troy Mc Aleer, St Margaret’s 4

Michael O’Mahony, Schull 3

Patrick Hill, Leap 3

Dunmanway Friday

GRAAL Du Dollar enhanced his growing reputation with a comprehensive victory in the top-grade trot in Dunmanway on Friday afternoon, writes Tim Kelleher.

Hestia Malex and Comete Des Landes ensured that the horses trailing 60 yards would have to work hard to shake off that deficit.

The order remained the same heading out on the final circuit but Graal Du Dollar was on their heels and led into the back straight to win by six lengths from Duc d’Arry. The winner is owned by John O’Sullivan from Goleen and trained and driven by Jamie Hurley at Reenascrena.

“After he won on the beach we took him to Annaghmore for the Irish-American weekend where he broke at the start but made up a lot of ground,” Hurley reported. “I said to John that he has bundles of talent and, to be fair, John said ‘work away’ and tonight he proved that he’s a top class act.”

In the top-grade pace Biggins bounced back to winning ways for owner/trainer/driver Chris O’Reilly from Drimoleague. IB Felicity led briefly but O’Reilly sent Biggins to the front on the opening lap and wasn’t hanging around for the traffic he encountered on his previous run. From that point Biggins was never in danger and led home IB Paddington and Teddy Camden.

Irish Good Dream made it two wins in five days when leading from the start in the Grade F Trot. Once again Hippie Sisu had to play second fiddle. Niall Forbes, who is based in Leap, has found the key to Irish Good Dream and the winning run can continue in weeks to come.

Jamie Cross made the journey down from Limerick a winning one when Someone’s Fantasy took the red rosette in the Grade F pace. Rhyds Panache and Spartan Warrior vied for pole position but Someone’s Fantasy swooped both of them at the road crossing first time round.

Someones Fantasy kept on well to win by a length from Spartan Warrior. The winner is jointly owned by Cross and his cousin, Limerick hurling star Kyle Hayes.

Only two went to post in the Grade G pace. Christy Brown recorded his second win of the year for Ballydehob owner Liam O’Brien. He led his only rival Said To Be Sweet all the way..