Although Well Tuned from the John Nicholson’s Johnstown yard had one win from 19 starts she put her best foot forward when running out a clear winner of the extended two mile and three mares beginners chase at Limerick.
An out and out Summer animal, the daughter of Flemensfirth mare had performed with credit over hurdles in spite of a lack of success. However, she showed when second on her chasing debut at Wexford that this might just be her true vocation.
Icy Reply from the Willie Mullins yard started a warm favourite but, after a mistake at the very first fence, she never travelled before being pulled up going down the back straight when at the rear of the field. She was a decent mare when trained by the late Dessie Hughes, but on this evidence she will need careful handling if she is to get anywhere her hurdle form.
In contrast Well Tuned, who had a good following in the betting market, set off in front until headed before the halfway point.
Jockey Mark Enright was in no hurry to regain the advantage and waited until the descent to the straight before sending Well Tuned back into the lead. From there she drew steadily away to comfortably win by five and a half lengths from Miss Dynamic.
This must rate as a smart display by the winner who never put a foot astray, she will now be aimed at a winners contest over a galloping track as the sharper courses seem to unsettle her a little.
Davy Russell made a successful return to the saddle after injury when partnering The Game Changer to a facile victory in the two mile and three novice chase.
An odds-on favourite the six-year-old, who has a third place in the Galway hurdle to his credit, has taken to chasing like a duck to water by winning his first of two outings over the larger obstacles.
Russell took no prisoners as he sent The Game Changer into the lead right from the drop of the flag. When his main rival Upazo tipped up at the second last Russell just had to steer his mount home for a 47 length win over the only other runner Shadow Catcher.
Winning handler Gordon Elliott told me that he was in on the point of pulling The Game Changer out in the morning but had a change of heart. A return to Ballybrit for the Galway Hurdle now beckons and the trainer is hoping for a big run in spite of the confidence behind Hidden Cyclone who, according to his trainer Shark Hanlon, is a blot on the handicap.
Jockey Paul Townend has a most impressive strike rate and he continued his purple patch when guiding Little Haarth to victory in the opening two mile and four maiden hurdle. He was later denied a double when his mount Thanks For Tea passed the post just a nose ahead of Duckweed, but was demoted to second place ad the stewards deemed he had interfered with the runner-up in the closing stages.
Trained by Dessie McDonagh, who will always be remembered as the man who had charge of the gallant little Monksfield all those years ago, McDonagh is now at somewhere near the veteran stage of his career but still keeps himself busy with a reduced string. He was present to give Townend the leg up on Little Haarth.
Attracting plenty of money in the betting market, the son of Alhaarth was always close to the pace. Townend struck for home before the penultimate flight. From there the combination had little trouble in holding the challenge of the Edward O’Grady runner Prickly by five lengths.
While the winner was not exactly fluent over the new type hurdles he certainly deserved his day in the sun. A fine big scopey horse, he is just coming to himself now. The trainer is of the opinion that he will make a nice chaser down the line.
There was a tremendous finish to the two mile and four mares maiden hurdle when three runners flashed across the line locked together. When the camera was consulted, the photo-finish revealed Thanks For Tea had prevailed by a nose from Duckweed with What a Jewel just a neck away in third place.
A protracted stewards inquiry followed and the placings of the first two were reversed. This decision was not very well received by race-goers as they felt that the interference cause was minimal and occurred too close to the line to have made a difference. There was some talk post-race that an appeal to the result might well be on the cards.