The opening maiden hurdle at Downpatrick races on Sunday 13th August at the Keep It Country Raceday saw the trio of market principals dominate the running for most of the race writes Joe Kavanagh.
The Joseph O’Brien-trained Unicorn with Jody Mc Garvey in the saddle was content to run third for most until produced after the final flight to challenge between favourite, Iolani and long-time leader Skeaping and score going away.
Jody McGarvey said: “He did it well. He was very disappointing the first two runs. He travelled and jumped well and got his head in front. He has been a bit of a monkey and Joseph put the cheek-pieces on him today. They seem to have worked.”
In form trainer Joseph O’Brien doubled up when Mischievous Max partnered by Johnny Slevin proved a convincing winner of the long distance maiden hurdle and beating odds-on favourite, Mountain Rock which couldn’t catch the winner in the closing stages. JJ Slevin said: “He’s a good, tough horse and he’s been very consistent. He jumped very well today and he handled the track very well and it was a good performance.”
The feature was won by Westland Row under an excellent ride by Davy Russell. The former dual champion jockey led before the penultimate hurdle and readily held the challenge of the well-supported favourite Andratx which failed to adopt his usual front running tactics.
Davy Condon, Assistant trainer to Gordon Elliott, said: “We were hopeful of a good run but obviously concerned because the trip was a little bit short for him. Davy gave him a brilliant ride – he stepped up going out the last circuit. Obviously he ran well around here before, he jumped great and the drying ground definitely helped.”
The handicap hurdle resulted in a dual in the closing stages between King Of Aran and Persian Wind. The latter lead downhill but despite the pair colliding jumping the final hurdle jockey, Danny Mullins drove the Michael Grassick-trained King Of Aran to the front in the closing stages.
Danny Mullins said: “He had a little pipe-opener on the Flat the last day since I rode him. Michael was quite happy with him. I’ve ridden a lot of winners for him on the Flat before, could I convince him to start training more jumpers is the next thing! He was a little idle in front . Normally when you get one rolling here you keep them going but I was sitting with Luke (Dempsey on Persian Wind) to try and keep a bit of company. A bit of company for another 100 yards did me no harm at all.”
The pre-race dominance of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh failed to materialise. Blixit was another disappointment having been to the fore faded rapidly prior to the final flight as the Colin Bowe-trained Sharlanda with Sean Flanagan aboard having always been handy quickly asserted after the last to win easily.
Colin Bowe said: “The clock is against her. I think she has until September as she is in foal to Ol’ Man River. We’ll look at the programme… if we could get a little Listed race over fences to get her black type over fences, that is probably how we will do it. We’ll definitely fit one more in.”
Bowe and jockey Johnny Slevin completed a double at the venue when Tranquil Magic managed to reverse placings with the locally trained, Better Back Bob. The pair previously 1-2 last month and again Personal Shopper which attempted to make all was third behind the duo. Colin Bowe explained: “We’ll maybe try and win another handicap but she has won a point-to-point so maybe we will move on to a beginners’ chase.”
The Edward O’Grady-trained Slippery Servant with Champion points rider, Barry O’Neill aboard claimed the finale. Champion trainer Willie Mullins again supplied the favourite but Special Ted clipped heels with another runner half a mile from home unseating Patrick Mullins.
Edward O’Grady said: “I think he has been a little unfortunate that he hasn’t won before now. He settled better in the race and it was run to suit him. I think he was always a winner throughout today. I look forward to going hurdling with him. Jumping would be his forte. I think he’ll go on any ground. He’ll go well on soft as well. I’d say he’ll in three or four weeks in a maiden hurdle.”