BIG FIELDS were the order of the day at Gowran Park on Thursday evening but the competition was no match for the in-form team of trainer Dermot Weld and stable jockey Pat Smullen.
The duo recorded a quickfire three-timer in the opening three races and went within a length of making it four when El Toreros was denied by Orafinitis in the seven furlong handicap.
The Galileo colt Noble Graduate set the ball rolling with a smooth display to land the mile and four conditions race. A maiden winner at Tipperary last month, Noble Graduate started at prohibitive odds but those brave enough to trade seldom had a worry. Setting off in front, he comfortably dealt with the challenge of Last Crusade by three and a half lengths, with the Jim Bolger runner Gort Na Mona five lengths further back in third place.
The trainer told me that his charge is a big lazy type that does only what he has to do. The mile and three Nijinsky Stakes at Leopardstown is his next assignment, after which he could be a candidate for the Irish Derby.
Weld was next into bat with Blue White Fire in the juvenile maiden over seven furlongs but the son of Montjeu had to battle hard before landing the spoils by a head.
In the van from the time the stalls opened Blue White Fire looked in trouble as the odds-on favourite Secretary Of State took over a furlong or so out. However, Smullen galvanised him for a final effort and the combination regained the advantage right on the line.
Having run well behind Raphael Santi at the venue less than a fortnight earlier the winner showed plenty of resolve. The trainer will now give him a small break and come back later in the Summer, with a Listed contest in view.
Cannon Hill completed the hat-trick for the Weld and Smullen combination when he overcame a poor draw to land the three-year-old maiden in good style.
After tracking the leaders early on the son of Holy Roman Emperor still had plenty to do with a couple of furlongs to race but he responded well to the urgings of Smullen to lead almost in the shadow of the post and win going away by two lengths from another Bolger representative Vastitas. Weld has nothing special in mind for the gelding, but intimated that a step up to a mile or so is now on the cards.
Dessie McDonagh, who will always be associated with the gallant little Monksfield, denied Weld a four-timer when he saddled Orafinitis to cause a 16/1 upset in the seven furlong handicap.
Partnered by the trainer’s son Declan, Orafinitis raced in mid-division early on before coming wide into the straight. She came with a wet sail from the two furlong marker to lead with 100 yards to run and was full value for her length success over El Toreros.
McDonagh told me that the good ground was of considerable help to the filly. He expects the handicapper to raise her a couple of pounds, but thinks that she is improving and is capable of dealing with it.
It proved to be a profitable evening for McDonagh as went on to claim the extended mile and a furlong apprentice handicap courtesy of East Of Tara. Starting at 12/1, the daughter of Barathea came from mid division to be in contention turning for home. Jockey Ronan Whelan drove her to challenge a furlong and a half out and in spite of hanging slightly shade the verdict over Badger Or Bust by a short head with the Tony Mullins-trained The Last Stand a length further adrift in third position.
Owned by Patricia O’Rourke, wife of former Meath Gaelic footballer and RTE pundit Colm, East Of Tara had run a blinder on the all-weather at Dundalk. She has been unlucky on one or two occasions but now that she had found winning ways she could score again in this type of company.
This was the second leg of a double for Whelan, who had earlier taken the mile 54-67 handicap aboard Balladiene. A most consistent mare, Balladiene was easy to back. She was never too far off the pace before leading from a furlong and a half out.
Those looking to recoup losses on what was a tricky card latched onto the David Wachman runner Azores in the concluding three-year-old fillies maiden.
She never looked like delivering and finished third behind Negotiate and Cape Of Good Grace. Coming with a sustained challenge in the straight Negotiate, edged ahead close to the line to deny the long-time leader Cape Of Good Grace by a head.