CALLAN’S John O’Shea and champion trainer Willie Mullins were the men in form at a testing Tipperary meeting on Thursday evening. O’Shea sent out Moonlight Sapphire to cause a 16/1 upset in the two mile and four handicap hurdle while Mullins recorded a first and last race double courtesy of Drive On Regardless and Glens Melody.
The High Chaparral mare Moonlight Sapphire gained her first bracket since scoring at Galway back in 2009 when she ran out a comfortable winner of the 87-101 handicap hurdle in the hands of Sean McDermott. Settled well off the pace, the seven-year-old made steady headway in the back straight to be right on the premises turning to face the judge.
At this point Special Bar had just hit the front but McDermott was only biding his time. When Moonlight Sapphire fairly winged the final flight she settled the issue in a matter of strides, hitting the wire two and a half lengths to the good.
On this evidence she is getting back to the form she showed at that Galway meeting before losing her way. If the handicapper is not too severe on her she is certainly capable to add to her collection before very long.
Ruby Walsh showed just why every trainer in the country is looking for his services when he forced Drive On Regardless up in the dying strides to claim the opening maiden hurdle for older horses.
A dual bumper winner as a five-year-old, the son of Shernazar has encountered many problems in the interim but he showed on his first run back at Limerick that he still retained plenty of ability and had a following in the betting market.
Walsh was content to track the leaders but when the Jessica Harrington runner Somethingdifferent took over four out he looked the likely winner. Walsh had other ideas however, driving his mount into the lead before the final hurdle. Although not as fluent as Somethingdifferent he rallied gamely to get his head in front right on the line.
Obviously relishing the soft conditions the winner showed plenty of resolve. Being out of an Alflora mare should not be unduly perturbed by a step up in trip.
The King’s Theatre filly Glens Melody registered her third bumper success from as many outings when turning the concluding bumper into a procession to complete the Mullins double. Partnered by the trainer’s son Patrick, Glens Melody was never too far out of her ground. She galloped all over her rivals in the straight before getting her head a furlong or so out, drawing away to win decisively by seven and a half lengths from the long-time leader St Maxime.
Reports from the Mullins camp suggest that this filly is the real deal. It will be interesting to see what route she takes from here.
Owner J.P. McManus was confidently expected to take the two mile and a furlong conditions chase with the Edward O’Grady-trained Shot From The Hip but it was the owner’s other runner Alpine Eagle that landed the spoils at the expense of the favourite. Given a stylish ride by Andrew Leigh, Alpine Eagle came from off the pace to lead four fences from home. Try as he might Shot From The Hip was never able to reel him in, finally going under by two and a quarter lengths.
Having burst a blood vessel at last year’s Galway festival Alpine Eagle was off the track ever since so this must rate as a good effort. Former champion jockey Frank Berry, who is now racing manager to McManus, revealed that the winner will be kept on the go for the Summer and hopefully remain in one piece.
Another animal that has endured plenty of problems is Whispering Hills, but he rewarded the patience of his trainer Dessie Hughes when he took the three mile maiden hurdle with something in hand. The subject of strong market support, Whispering Hills raced in the slipstream of the leaders until the home straight. Although not exactly fluent at the second last hurdle the winner still had plenty up his sleeve and went on to score by a comfortable four and a half lengths from Flaying Hymn.
Hughes revealed post-race that his charge is like new again. He will have another outing or so before Galway, where he will be aimed at a staying conditions hurdle.
Waterford handler Henry de Bromhead was on the mark when Catcherinscratcher made every post a winning one in the two mile and a half beginners chase.
With Davy Russell deputising for the injured Andrew Lynch the seven-year-old jumped out to the right at several fences but still had plenty in reserve when it mattered. She now heads to Killarney for a winners of one chase.