THURLES hosted two Grade 2 races on Sunday for the racecourse’s featured meeting of the year with victory in the principal Horse & Jockey Chase going to Fakir D’oudairies (7/4 favourite), in very fortuitous circumstances.

The J.P. McManus-owned Grade 1 winner was ridden by J.J. Slevin and defeat looked likely rounding the bend for home as he lay fourth behind Haut En Couleurs, Chacun Pour Soi and French Dynamite.

However, he rallied gamely to give chase to close on leader Haut En Couleurs approaching the final fence.

Fakir D’oudairies was disputing the lead at the last where Haut En Couleurs fell, with French Dynamite also blundering, leaving the winner to score by six lengths from French Dynamite.

Winning trainer Joseph O’Brien later commented: “He got a little lost around the turn and was galloping down the straight, but obviously the horse in front fell, although we were coming for a challenge anyway.

“I was very pleased with the performance and pleased with how he jumped and it sets him up nicely for the spring. He was giving away weight and I feel, as he is getting older, it is taking a bit more work to get him there.

“He will potentially go back to Ascot for the Grade 1 he won last year and then we’ll look at the Ryanair Chase and Aintree. I suppose all those options will be left open.”

Racing began with the other Grade 2 chase, the Coolmore NH Sires EBF Mares Novice, which saw Allegorie De Vassy continue her progression when easily justifying 1/8 favouritism despite an early scare.

Clung on

Ridden by Paul Townend in the Rich Ricci silks, the Willie Mullins-trained mare jumped badly right at the first fence, almost unseating Townend. However, the rider clung on and eventually steered the easy winner home, 19 lengths clear of runner-up Brides Hill.

Mullins said afterwards: “Maybe it was my fault as I said to Paul to let her go from the start and she was too exuberant at the first - I don’t think he’ll be listening to me again!

“Paul thinks it was pure exuberance and he was letting her roll down to the fence rather than pulling her together and asking her. She went off right but he gathered her together more after that.

“I think it was a one-off and she didn’t get a jump this week as our jumping area was frozen. She was just too fresh and exuberant but settled into it nicely and confirmed what she showed at Limerick.

“I’m very pleased today and doubt she’ll run before Cheltenham although will have a school somewhere, maybe after the Dublin Racing Festival or the week after that. At the moment the mares’ chase (at Cheltenham) is where she’ll go.”

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WILLIE Mullins and Paul Townend continued their awesome recent run in the W.T. O’Grady Memorial EBF Novice Hurdle where the Sean and Bernardine Mulryan-owned Embassy Gardens (5/6 favourite) routed his rivals, for a 35 lengths win over front-running Kilbree Warrior.

Mullins said: “That was a bit more straightforward and he appreciates that step out to three miles. I imagine, the way he gallops through the line, he’ll take up his date in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham.

“He doesn’t need a run before Cheltenham. Hopefully he stays sound and wins a nice novice race this year. He looks a real chasing type.

Mullins’ brother Tom was on the mark in the Horse & Jockey Handicap Hurdle with Hey Johnny, who justified 7/4 favouritism under the pair’s nephew jockey Danny Mullins.

Carrying the colours of Joseph Fitzpatrick, the half-brother to Sir Gerhard was registering a second handicap success, to add to two bumpers, when beating Popova by two and a quarter lengths.

Mullins said: “I was finding it hard to get him fit at home so I ran him in a graded race the last day. The whole idea was I was hoping he might get a little penalty today to go for the Dublin Racing Festival. I had my eye on the two-mile handicap hurdle at the DRF since Christmas.

“It has worked out today as he won his race, will have his penalty so will get in.”

Smart hunter

Trainer David Christie has four smart hunter chasers on his hands at present and arguably the most talented, Ferns Lock (1/1 favourite), landed the concluding Thurles Racecourse Hunters Chase, under jockey Barry O’Neill.

The winning gelding had the benefit of a recent Fairyhouse hunters chase win under his belt when taking on the long-absent Cheltenham winner Billaway here, and duly blew that rival aside when scoring by 20 lengths.

Christie commented: “He has the potential to be a serious horse and Barry (O’Neill) said he learned more today than the last day. He said Billaway eye-balled him early in the race and he panicked a bit and took a while to settle. Once he settled into a rhythm, he was pretty good and there is improvement to come.

“He is a horse for next year and won’t go away - the Tetratema (at Gowran Park) will be one of his main aims. I definitely won’t send him to Cheltenham as he might be run off his head and it could scare the life out of him.

“What this horse has over my other three hunter chasers (Vaucelet, Winged Leader and Ultimate Optimist) is a serious kick of gear. He has the potential to be top class.”

Belle best after scare and

it’s next stop Cheltenham

TRAINER Henry de Bromhead, owners Michelle Doyle and Sean Barton and jockey Rachael Blackmore combined to win the Red Mills Maiden Hurdle with 2/7 favourite Belle The Lioness, who endured strife from a loose horse and two late jumping errors to score by a half-length from Mollys Glory.

De Bromhead said that the front-running tactics used here were not ideal “but that’s the way we had to ride her today to get the job done. She got lit up by the loose horse and plenty went against her. In a better race, the way to ride her is to take your time. We are going to aim for the mares’ novice hurdle at Cheltenham - we’re entitled to go and take our chance. She will go straight there.”

On a day when all the favourites won, the biggest-priced winner was 100/30 shot Stumptown, which landed the Handicap Chase by 12 lengths and provided Hey Johnny’s jockey Danny Mullins with the first leg of a double. Regarding the Furze Bush Syndicate-owned winner trainer Gavin Cromwell said: “We fancied him the last day in Punchestown, but he never jumped, he wasn’t beaten that far. Hopefully the handicapper won’t be too hard on him.”