IT WAS THE end of an era as local jockey Tom Doyle retired from racing at Navan on Saturday.
Inistioge-born Doyle made the call to step down from the saddle after pulling up his mount Zardsky in the three mile handicap chase at the Kildare venue.
A gifted horseman Doyle got his early tuition from Aidan O’Brien, who was then training national hunt horses at Piltown, and later from Dusty Sheehy before moving to England. An eight-year spell across the water yielded plenty of success before he relocated to his Ireland five seasons ago, quickly establishing himself as one of the best freelance riders around.
Local trainers Dusty Sheehy, Kieran Purcell and Michael Bowe gave him plenty of support and he did not disappoint, landing some big pots. At 33 years of age he is relatively young to retire, but is walking away in good health.
The good news is that he will remain in the game as he has a few young horses to get ready for point-to-points.
After a dry week or so ground conditions improved greatly at Leopardstown on Sunday, helping the Tom Mullins runner Fosters Cross in no small way as he turned over the favourite Blackstairmountain in the two mile and two conditions hurdle.
A great servant to connections, the Dr Massini gelding raced in the slipstream of Mount Colah until the latter began to tire at the second last flight. Rider Paul Townend kicked for home before the turn, helping Fosters Cross charge into a lead which grew to 12 lengths by the line.
In his post race remarks the winning handler revealed that his charge might be stepped up in trip at either Fairyhouse or Punchestown, but Galway is certainly on his agenda. Fosters Cross has a liking for the Ballybrit circuit, as he showed in 2011 when he landed the big amateur handicap on the opening evening and finished second in the Galway Hurdle a few days later.
Aidan O’Brien saddled his first bumper winner in almost a decade when Shield got the better of the favourite Grecian Tiger after a great scrap. Shield was dropped out early on by Kate Harrington, but made eye-catching progress in the final half mile to be on the tail of the leaders turning to face the judge. Grecian Tiger, in front since shortly after the halfway point, still held the call but Shield responded to Harrington’s urgings to land the spoils by half a length after a hectic scramble to the line.
This was a huge improvement on the horse’s initial outing at Punchestown, but O’Brien subsequently explained that his charge had to run there and finish in the first four to qualify for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham so he was forcing the issue somewhat. On this evidence Shield looks a nice horse and the fact that the progeny of his sire improve with age there will be much more to come.
Paul Fahy, who doubles as farrier to the Willie Mullins yard, had his day in the sun when sending out He’llberemembered to capture the two mile and five Grade B Handicap Chase under a cracking ride by 7lb claimer Shane Butler.
A decent animal over hurdle, the-10-year-old has taken to jumping fences well but had plenty to do at the weights on what was his handicap debut. Owned by the trainer and Mary Lett, who also bred the Dr Massini gelding, He’llberemembered raced in mid-division but made steady progress from the third last to lead off the home turn and see off Pineau De Re by three-parts of a length.
A refreshingly realistic Fahy announced that with the best horses going to Cheltenham he decided to try his case here. The aim now is to have a crack at the Irish Grand National, provided he gets in.
Katie Walsh stole the show in the two mile 108-135 handicap hurdle when she brought Summer Song from the next parish to touch off Captain Arceus by a neck. Going to the final flight of hurdles the Medicean mare looked a forlorn hope, but she seemed to sprout wings in the final 100 yards to get up almost on the line.
The combination scored in similar style at the venue a few weeks earlier. They could now go handicapping when the new flat season begins in the next few weeks.