Gowran Park will begin its centenary celebrations in style when the racecourse hosts the Thyestes Chase meeting tomorrow (Thursday).
Such is the popularity of the event, the ‘house full’ signs should be up long before the horses go to post for the opening four-year-old hurdle.
First run in 1954, the Thyestes Chase is the centre-piece of the Gowran Park national hunt programme and the biggest chase in the South-East of the country. With a prize-fund of €100,000 and its Grade A status it is not surprising to see the race attract such a quality entry - picking the winner could be a difficult task.
Willie Mullins, who has won the race four times already, has no less than five of the 34 entries. If he can gain a fifth success he will equal the record of Tom Dreaper, a mark set all those years ago. Dreaper’s son Jim will be represented by Los Amigos while other local trainers Tom Foley, Pat Hughes and Tom Mullins all have entries.
The supporting programme is also top class as it includes the €40,000 Grade Two Galmoy Hurdle over a three- mile trip as well as the €21,000 four-year-old hurdle and €17,500 handicap hurdle for claiming riders.
Completing the seven race card will be the maiden hurdle for five-year-olds and over, a two mile and two beginners chase and an older horses bumper.
Thyestes Day is almost a national holiday in Kilkenny. With the first race timed for 1.15pm, the advice is to come early.
Tom Mullins caused a 25/1 upset when Grand Partner swooped late to take the bumper at Fairyhouse on Sunday. The Millenary gelding, which is owned by the trainer’s wife Helen and was ridden by their son David, had failed to trouble the judge in half a dozen or so races and had not run in over a year. However, he must have been showing something at home as he was nibbled at in the market at fancy prices.
Dropped out in the early part of the race as Realdealholyfield set the pace, Grand Partner began to make ground half a mile or so out but still had plenty to do off the home turn.
At this point On Impulse had just taken over and was soon challenged by Most Peculiar and the favourite Lord Scoundrel. The latter looked like he was going to deliver until Grand Partner found another gear inside the final furlong to lead almost in the shadow of the post and win going way by a length and a half.
Time will tell how good a race it was. Lord Scoundrel had a couple of decent efforts to his credit but he was readily outpaced in the closing stages, so it be interesting to see how Grand Partner progresses from here.
Tom’s brother Willie, who is turning out the winners with almost monotonous regularity, scored his now customary brace courtesy of Gitane Du Berlais and Turban. Although stable jockey Ruby Walsh chose Vicky De L’Oasis punters waded in on the latter, sending her off a warm favourite.
She was never too far removed from the leaders before hitting the front around the halfway point. Jockey Paul Townend did not have to apply any great pressure to beat Vicky De L’Oasis by four lengths.
This was a very taking performance by the winner who has plenty of size and scope. She relished the testing conditions and stamina did not seem to be a problem. Credit must also go to the runner-up, who was attempting to concede 11lb to the winner. This might yet prove to be a very decent run.
Turban completed the double with an impressive victory in the Dan Moore Memorial Handicap Chase over two mile and a furlong. Making his handicap debut, the seven-year-old was given time to find his feet by Ruby Walsh and was travelling best of all heading to the home turn.
Walsh waited until after the second last to send him to the front and settled the issue in a matter of strides, winning by six lengths from Competitive Edge. A good sound jumper, the winner looks like he would be competitive at a higher level.
The booking of Davy Russell for Grand Jesture in the extended two mile and five beginners chase raised many eyebrows as Andrew Lynch usually has first call on the Henry de Bromhead runners. The decision paid off, as the son of Gold Well came home six and a half lengths to the good from Hit The Headlines.
Post-race de Bromhead revealed he was trying a different formula as he was thinking of going down the cross-country route with his charge, but now will have to rethink that idea.
The big novice handicap chase at Navan in March is the target.