WITH just two favourites finding form and a couple of unconsidered outsiders upsetting many applecarts, winner-finding proved to be difficult at Gowran Park on Saturday.
Punters were given a sign of things to come came as early as the first race when Edward O’Grady’s odds-on favourite Shot From The Hip finished third behind Canaly and The Bull Hayes. Racing in the slipstream of Days Hotel, Canaly took over before the home turn and ran on strongly to beat The Bull Hayes by three lengths with a further three parts of a length back to Shot From The Hip.
On the face of things this was a surprise result as both the winner and runner-up would seem to have a good deal to find on the favourite. However, winning trainer Dessie Hughes holds Canaly in high regard and has him pencilled in for a tilt at the two mile and four novice hurdle at the Punchestown festival. Shot From The Hip pulled hard early on but rider Andrew McNamara anchored him well towards the inside. Although he made some progress in the straight he was never going to trouble the winner but it was reported post race that he was coughing.
Brian O’Connell, the stable rider to the Philip Fenton yard, also has a good strike rate for veteran trainer Francis Flood. It continued when this combination caused a 16/1 upset by landing the two mile and four handicap hurdle with Lascalahall.
The son of Milan raced in mid division for the first half of the race but improved to grab a challenging position turning to face the judge. O’Connell waited until the run to the final obstacle before sending his mount into the lead and from there Lascalahall pulled out plenty to hold the late challenge of Kylebeg Krystle by a length and a half, with the favourite Stony Grey Soil a short head further back in third place.
A course and distance winner earlier in the year Lascalahall will have a staying handicap hurdle at either Fairyhouse or Punchestown as a target before going chasing next term.
Worse was to follow for punters when, in the following three mile maiden hurdle, the 20/1 chance Toon River outstayed King Of The Refs under a polished ride from Davy Condon. Ahead at the third flight Toon River responded well to the urgings of his rider to see off a number of challengers before holding off King Of The Refs by half a length, with the Willie Mullins runner Red Tiger a neck further away in third place. Mullins also supplied the favourite Glenlo Abbey but, after being prominent early on, this fellow faded out of contention before the straight.
Paul Carberry, stable jockey to the powerful Noel Meade yard, has also forged a successful partnership with trainer Gordon Elliott. The combination visited the winner’s enclosure when Eight Is My Number fairly trounced the opposition in the two mile and a half maiden hurdle which was confined to four and five-year-olds.
Having run well in a similar type contest over two miles at Navan the Milan gelding was confidently expected to improve over the longer trip and this proved to be correct. Carberry was content to sit in behind the leaders until making smooth progress heading to the third last hurdle.
At this point the long time leader Shifa, under Patrick Mullins, was still in front but began to send up distress signals. Once Carberry pounced Eight Is My Number settled the issue in a matter of strides before being eased down close home to take the money by seven lengths from Taraval.
Well regarded by Elliott the winner will take a step up in grade at either Fairyhouse or Punchestown before going out to grass for the summer.
Abbey Glen, which scored a surprise victory at Navan, repeated the dose when landing the three mile handicap hurdle in the hands of Alan Crowe. Starting at much shorter odds, the seven-year-old came from a long way back but was travelling sweetly before the home turn.
Crowe threw down the gauntlet to Kellystown Jack two out but Abbey Glen held firm to win by a length and a quarter at the line. Having been off the track for a considerable time due to injury the seven-year-old son of Presenting was tackling the trip for the first time. According to trainer Christy Roche the drying ground was a big help and he will monitor the horses well being before making further plans.
Pat Doyle who does much of the pre training and point to pointing with the Michael O’Leary-owned horses went for a touch with Folsom Blue in the concluding bumper but the gamble came unstuck. Partnered by Nina Carberry, Folsom Blue was the first of the fancied horses to come off the bridle and in the end did well to take runner-up honours behind the Mikey Fogarty ridden Its Ironic.
A dual point to point winner, Its Ironic battled manfully when the chips were down. Connections see him as a nice staying horse in the making.