THE first major prize of the National Hunt season went to Dermot McLoughlin who provided yet further evidence of his talents in producing Santa Rossa in the form of her life to dispose of some much higher rated opponents in the Kevin McManus Bookmaker Grimes Hurdle.
In what is perhaps the most valuable Grade 3 of the entire season, the sparingly raced Tilly Conway-owned and -bred eight-year-old was making just the 10th appearance of her career.
After disappointing when favourite for a listed event at Killarney back in May, the daughter of Jeremy looked to have it all to do against a field featuring this year’s Champion Hurdle fourth Saint Roi (8/11).
Indeed, a rating of 134 meant Santa Rossa (9/1) lined up as one of the lowest-rated runners. In a race run at a searching enough gallop, the leading quintet had all started to come under some sort of pressure leaving the backstraight.
Of that quintet the Darragh O’Keeffe-ridden winner was the one that found most.
She went to the front before the penultimate flight and maintained an unfaltering gallop to defeat last year’s winner and 150-rated Sole Pretender by three lengths, with Saint Roi fading to lie a further six and a half lengths off the front pair.
“The plan was to jump her out, she was shuffled back the last day at Killarney and it didn’t suit.
“They were well strung out at halfway and I thought they were going too quick but Darragh said he always had plenty of horse,” said McLoughlin.
“She is a quality mare and can be keen but is better in a better race like that. Maybe the way to ride her is with a good gallop and with a bit of light as she seems to settle.
“The Galway Hurdle might be an option for her and she’ll get in now after winning that.”
Although he was out of luck on Saint Roi, Mark Walsh did enjoy better luck aboard the Des McDonogh-trained Moving Water in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle.
Owned by J.P. McManus and bred by his wife Noreen, this gelding won a unplaced maiden hurdle at Wexford just over a month ago.
The 7/2 favourite battled with Sweet Sting from before the last and went on to prevail by three-quarters of a length in the manner of a horse who had more in hand than the margin of victory would suggest.
The Galway Festival could be on the winner’s agenda.
THE evening concluded with a commanding effort from Ted Walsh’s Gaoth Chuil (4/6) in the four-year-old bumper where the daughter of Harzand outclassed her rivals. The Micheal Ryan-owned filly had begun her career with three runner-up finishes.
Here she came with a powerful front-running effort under Derek O’Connor that saw her register an impressive 14-length triumph over Resilient Front.
“She was entitled to do that with her runs and she’s a well-bred filly out of a mare, Elyaadi, who was placed at Royal Ascot a couple of times for John Queally,” remarked Walsh.
“She’ll go jumping hurdles now and she’d win a two-mile maiden on the flat too.”
The race was marred by a nasty incident after halfway where King Of The Park came down and brought down Kalahari Diamond. The riders involved emerged unscathed but King Of The Park sustained a fatal injury.
A marked step-up in trip showed just what Alfieri (10/1) is capable of as Ross O’Sullivan’s charge bolted up in the 80-95 rated handicap hurdle over three miles. The five-year-old finished second in a maiden over two miles at Kilbeggan but he was altogether better over this trip.
Amateur James Reilly, who broke in the gelding for his owner-breeder John Place, was sitting motionless in fourth turning for home and when he asked his mount to assert the response was impressive as Alfieri shot clear to finish 13 lengths clear of Rose Mahler.
IN a break with tradition, the first juvenile hurdle of the season was brought forward from its usual slot at Roscommon in early August and it was won by the Andrew McNamara-trained Tory Reel who led home a one-two-three for his sire and former outstanding international campaigner Highland Reel.
A 50-rated four-race maiden on the flat, the Hunting Lodge Syndicate-owned Tory Reel (9/1) had to reach for the last under Paddy O’Hanlon but landed running to see off Mr Globalist after they left the front-running favourite Chargo behind as the final flight loomed.
“He ran a lovely race on the flat at Limerick last month (not beaten that far by Deceit) and we gave him a school in the interim which went well so we said we’d give him a go here,” remarked the trainer. “I’d say he will go back to the flat now before the first three-year-old winners’ hurdle in late August.”
Two runners parted company with their riders, but this was nowhere near as eventful as other editions of the race.
After threatening to win a race for some time, the 11-race maiden Delightfantastic got her turn in the 80-109 rated two-mile handicap hurdle.
Harry Swan took the mount on the John Joe Walsh-trained mare who dismantled this field with ease as she cruised to the front before two out and hitting the line with a dozen lengths to spare.
The 7/2 favourite was building on a promising third to Coole Arcade at this track in May. A trip to Killarney next is among the options open to the John Roche-owned daughter of Yeats.
Ambrose McCurtin, who rode an unplaced stablemate of Delightfantastic in that earlier race, enjoyed much better fortune on Shoot First in the two-and-a-half-mile maiden hurdle.
The six-year-old was well off the pace leaving the backstraight but soon began to move forward with purpose.
In the straight Shoot First (8/1-11/2) closed in relentlessly and he got on top in the closing stages to defeat the favourite Mr Saxobeat by just over three lengths. Charles Byrnes trains the winner for the Dubai Cowboys Syndicate and is likely to move his charge into handicaps.