Slevins shine at Bettyville
Horse racing: Eight race card is run off
An exiting eight-race National Hunt card was run off at Bettyville Racecourse on Friday night before a reasonable crowd, with some very close finishes, a couple of Wexford winners and a mixed bag of weather that gave a taste of all four seasons in a few hours.
It was a great night for the Slevin family from Kiltra, Caim, as trainer Shay produced Ash Rowe to win the Ocean Feed Equine maiden hurdle under an excellent ride by his son, J.J., for owner Michelle Ryan.
Shay is very well known on the point-to-point circuit but his winners on the track are rare enough and this one was a surprise, being returned at 16/1. The nine-year-old had won three points but had been out of action for 226 days, so this was quite a training performance.
J.J., who is now attached to the Nigel Twiston Davies stable in England, has been making regular trips home to ride for his father, and this one certainly paid off. He swept around the leaders at the last bend and kept on really well up the tough home straight to win by one and a half lengths.
Second was Gordon Elliott's Blessed King under Jack Kennedy and third was Abbazagga for the Queally family from Waterford.
The second Wexford winner was jockey Jamie Codd in the concluding bumper when he completed a double for Carlow trainer, Peter Fahey. He made good ground through on the inside at the last bend and rode out a typical Codd finish to get Benny In Milan (11/2) home by more than two lengths, from Naturally Blond (6/1) and Max Moonhead (16/1).
Fahey had earlier won the feature race of the evening, the €14,500 Vinegar Hill Chase, with Xsquared (3/1), ridden by Keith Sexton. Though there were just the five runners, this was a thriller with four in line going to the second last.
Here the 9/10 favourite, Gambling Girl, under Robbie Power for Jessica Harrington, took it up but was quickly collared at the last by the winner who held on well by less than a length. Xsquared had won on the flat at Fairyhouse just two nights earlier and was completing a hat-trick.
All the other seven races attracted full fields of 14 runners and the Nick O'Donnell Memorial Handicap Hurdle, honouring the great Wexford full-back from the 1950s and '60s, had to be divided to accommodate 28 runners. Members of the O'Donnell family were on hand to present the prizes.
Division 1 saw Davy Russell deliver a masterful ride on the favourite, Beautiful Ben (9/4), trained by Denis Hogan in Cloughjordan, Tipperary. He seemed to have lots to do coming down the hill and was being hard-ridden on the turn in, but Russell got a good run out of him up the stand side to prevail by a neck.
This was only after a sustained struggle with French Ambassador (20/1 outsider), ridden by seven-pound claimer, Richard Doyle from Kildare, for Conor O'Dwyer, the Wexford man training in Kildare who enjoyed such great success in Cheltenham as a jockey, winning two Gold Cups and two Champion Hurdles. There was a good run in third by Colin Bowe's Havana Dancer (11/2), ridden by Adrian Heskin.
Division 2 of the Nick O'Donnell race was won by the Robert Murphy (Cappoquin, Co. Waterford), trained and owned Silverpockets (6/1), under a good ride from young seven-pound claimer, Mikey Hammill. He was aided by some drama at the second last when Yes Man fell when taking up the running and interfered with Venture Lazarus (20/1), who battled on well under Alan Lynch to take second, just a neck ahead of well-backed Our Jerry (9/2 jf), ridden by Rachael Blackmore.
There was an upset in the info@wexford races mares' maiden hurdle. Joseph O'Brien's Rosshaven Lady, ridden by Davy Russell, was even money favourite, but had to give best to Paul Townend on Henry's Girl (4/1), sent out by veteran Waterford trainer, John Kiely.
The Blackstairs Beginners' Chase went to 7/2 favourite, Cogryhill, ridden by rising star, Jack Kennedy, for Gordon Elliott. He also supplied the third, Cecil Corbett (12/1), ridden by Keith Donoghue, with the pair divided by Thanks for Tea (8/1), ridden by Cork lad, Ambrose McCurtin.
Paul Townend was out of luck on the Willie Mullins-trained favourite, So Young, but he got quick compensation in the next, the Carrickbyrne Handicap Chase, when he fought out a tremendous finish to get up by a head on 4/1 favourite, Curragh Golan, trained by Garrett Power in Windgap, Kilkenny. The gallant second was Ballyfinboy (10/1), under Keith Sexton for J.R. Finn from Borrisokane, Tipperary, with Lenora under Philip Enright third just a length back.
Despite the foibles of the weather, it was a good, enjoyable evening of competitive racing though there were fewer bookies than usual because of a clash with the Bellewstown Festival the same evening. €113,000 was wagered on the Tote, up nearly €10,000 on the same day last year.
The last summer meeting takes place at Bettyville on Friday, July 22, and apart from the racing, the Best Dressed Lady competition sponsored by the Monart Destination Spa will be a big attraction.