ON A DAY stolen from midsummer the decent sized Gowran Park attendance enjoyed mixed fortunes on Sunday with a few long priced winners upsetting the applecart.
However, they still had plenty to cheer about as local hero Willie Mullins and stable jockey Ruby Walsh were in double form as was Edward O’Grady, while Windgap handler Kieran Purcell also visited the winner’s enclosure.
The very fine weather caused the ground to dry out considerably from declaration time, which resulted in several withdrawals but most jockeys considered it to be perfectly safe. Shifa got the Mullins/Walsh partnership off the mark when she justified favouritism in the two mile and four mares maiden hurdle.
Having disappointed on a few occasions the French import jumped off in front but although headed with a circuit to race she fought her way back into the lead turning for home and battled well to dispose of the challenge of Nina Carberry’s mount Jeunopse by a length.
It was a workmanlike rather than brilliant display by the winner but, as her trainer announced post-race, she needs a longer trip and a fence in front of her to be seen at her best. The drying ground was also a help and Mullins intends to give her a further outing over the minor obstacles before changing codes in the new season.
Ruby Walsh was seen at his strongest when getting Allee Grand home by the narrowest of margins in the three mile conditions hurdle to complete the brace for himself and Mullins. Settled in mid division, the six-year-old began to take closer order heading to the straight but was under strong driving between the final couple of flights.
At this point rider Tom Doyle looked to have stolen the race aboard On The Way Out but he was unable to hold the late flourish of Walsh and Allee Grand in the closing stages.
Catch Me proved to be a most disappointing favourite. He was close up at the second last but dropped away from there and had to be content with third place. His trainer Edward O’Grady later announced that the horse probably needs a change of scenery and, with this in mind, he will be heading to the May sale at Doncaster.
O’Grady didn’t have to wait very long before opening his account for the day as he saddled Torphichen to take the conditions chase, the next race on the card. A good money-spinner for connections, the Alhaarth gelding had won a Curragh handicap in soft ground earlier in the month.
Jockey Andrew McNamara had him close to the pace from the outset before sending him on going down the back straight, but he had to pull out all the stops before finally landing the spoils by a neck from Idarah. The trainer is now viewing a novice handicap chase at the big Easter meeting at Fairyhouse and hoping that conditions will not get any faster than they are at present.
The Overbury mare Miss Nomer completed the double for O’Grady when she caused a 16/1 upset in the second division of the bumper.
Making her racecourse debut Miss Nomer, which was bred by the trainer’s wife Maria and comes from a good jumping family, was never too far removed from the leaders. She came with a good rattle in the straight to lead a the two furlong marker and stayed on well to take the money by three lengths from another outsider River Sava, which is owned by former show jumping star Tommy Wade.
Although this came as a surprise the winner is well regarded by connections. With her pedigree she is expected to make her mark once she has an obstacle in front of her.
Kieran Purcell gets a great tune out of the animal under his care and he has a decent prospect on his hands in the shape of Steel’s Rock, which ran out an ultra game winner of the two mile and a half handicap hurdle. Given a superb ride by Tom Doyle the son of King’s Theatre made every yard of the running. The challengers were queuing up to challenge from the third last but Doyle kept his mount together and in the end was three and a half lengths too good for Davy Russell’s mount Ferris Bueller.
A consistent performer in bumper races Steel’s Rock shed his maiden tag over hurdles at the venue last month. He will not be asked to race on very fast ground so the chances are that we will not see him again until later in the year.
Mick Darcy, who spent a term with Graignamanagh trainer Dusty Sheehy, had some good fortune when making every post a winning one aboard the 25/1 chance Like The Da in the opening handicap hurdle for older horses.
With little or no form to represent him in recent times, the Close Conflict made a mockery of his rating but he appreciated the change in ground conditions. According to trainer David Kelly he is a nightmare as he often packs it in.
There were several talking horses in the first division of the bumper but in the end the form book was borne out as Jenari did the business with the minimum of fuss.
Having finished second to the highly regarded Dermot Weld performer Waaheb at Leopardstown on his debut, the Milan gelding proved to be head and shoulders above this opposition as he cruised into the lead a quarter of a mile out and won without coming off the bridle.
It will be interesting to see what route that will be mapped out for him. The champion bumper at Punchestown is an obvious option, where he could encounter Waaheb again, but in any case he is a horse with a big future.