FRESH from his exploits with Burrenbridge Lodge, Windgap handler Kieran Purcell showed that he is no one-horse trainer as he saddled Steel’s Rock to land the two mile and four beginners chase at Gowran Park on Saturday.
Twice a winner at the venue over hurdles last season, the King’s Theatre gelding made a less than auspicious start to his chasing career behind Harpsy Cord also at Gowran Park last month. Different riding tactics were employed this time as he jumped off in front under Tom Doyle and had the opposition stone cold going to the final fence when disaster almost struck.
The six-year-old seemed reluctant to negotiate the fence and made a dreadful error. It would have meant the parting of the ways for many a partnership, but Doyle somehow stayed on board and got his mount together before going on to defeat Limerick Lane by 20 lengths.
This was the only semblance of a mistake by the winner as he travelled brilliantly and jumped like a handicapper. On this evidence he looks well capable of going on to better things. The big disappointment of the race was the Willie Mullins-trained odds-on favourite Gagewell Flyer. He began to struggle once the field left the back straight and was a fighting for a place when he tipped up at the last.
Racing opened with a smart hurdling display by debutante Maggie Neary to take the four and five-year-old maiden hurdle for the Jessica Harrington stable. Ridden just off the pace, Maggie Neary came to challenge pre-race favourite Gentleman Duke at the second last flight. The latter found precious little from there and it was Cause Of Causes which followed Maggie Neary home two and a quarter lengths in arrears.
The winning trainer, who revealed that her charge will remain in the country for the time being, was loud in her praise for Tom Treacy who does all the schooling at home on the four-year-old.
Since severing his connections with the Edward O’Grady stable rider Andrew McNamara has not nearly the same strike rate so it came as welcome change of luck when he guided Double Default to a narrow success over Its the Ice I Like in the older horses maiden hurdle.
This pair had the race very much to themselves from early in the straight and it was Double Default which, in spite of wandering slightly between the final couple of hurdles, gained the upper hand by a neck. Winning handler Charles O’Brien revealed that Double Default has been running on mostly unsuitable ground. He will now be aimed at Fairyhouse over Easter when he is likely to have conditions much more to his liking.
When John Kiely has the money down he rarely leaves it behind. However, a good gamble on Seventy Three went astray when he found one too good for him in the shape of Owennacurra Milan in the two mile 88-109 handicap hurdle.
Backed from 7 and 8/1 into 7/2 Seventy Three was being pushed along well before the straight. He responded, but was unable to get to Owennacurra Milan on which Robert Jones gave further evidence of his prowess.
The 5lb Limerick born claiming rider is certainly gaining the attentions of many trainers. He is a fine horseman and with ordinary luck can scale the heights in this most competitive of sports.
Another young jockey who is highly regarded is Adrian Heskin. Attached to the Michael Hourigan establishment, he gave us a glimpse of his talents when taking the Grade B Chase over two mile and two furlongs aboard The Sneezer.
Margaret Mullins supplied the favourite here in Marlay Park, which was ridden by her son Danny, but the nine-year-old never featured and finished well adrift of the principals. In contrast The Sneezer jumped off in front and set a searing pace which had everything else in trouble leaving the back straight. Heskin had only to sit still as the nine-year-old sauntered home 20 lengths clear of Jack Absolute.
First time blinkers obviously worked the oracle as the son of Topanoora never touched a twig. It will be interesting to see how the handicapper reacts to such a facile success.
Johnstown-based Michelle Gannon, who scored a timely victory with Knockmehill Lady at Fairyhouse, repeated the dose at Clonmel on Thursday when capturing the extended two mile mares hurdle after a great scrap with Pretty Happy.
Defying a mandatory 5lb penalty, the seven-year-old came from off the pace. There was nothing between her and Pretty Happy from the penultimate flight but jockey Robert Jones coaxed a little extra from Knockmehill Lady in the dying strides to shade the verdict by a head.
Michelle, who suffered serious injuries in a fall a couple of years ago, is now back in full fettle and aiming to renew her amateur licence.