Magical hour for local riders
Wexford jockeys mixing it with the best in the business
There was a magical hour on Thursday afternoon which saw three Wexford jockeys with connections to some of the county's horse racing dynasties mixing it with the very best in Britain and Ireland, collecting two significant wins and a very gallant second in some of the week's biggest races.
The other more risky side of racing was also very much in evidence at Limerick the next day when Jamie Codd and Seán O'Keeffe suffered injuries that will put them on the sidelines for some time.
Pride of place in 'the magic hour' must go to Tom O'Brien, son of Aidan's brother, Jim, who pulled off a betting coup in the €150k Welsh Grand National at Chepstow on the Colin Tizzard-trained Elegant Escape, backed all day and sent off at 3/1 favourite in a 20-strong field.
O'Brien had him perfectly placed all through with a copybook ride, and he held off all challengers and was a length and a quarter too good for David Pipe's Ramses De Teillee (10/1). Jamie Codd went across to ride Folsom Blue in the race for Gordon Elliott and he ran through tired horses at the end to finish a never nearer eighth.
Minutes later in Leopardstown, J.J. Slevin (from Kiltrea, Caim), another nephew of Aidan O'Brien (J.J's mother, Margaret, is Aidan's sister) had a major payday in the €200k, 27-runner Paddy Power handicap chase. He was in contention all through on his cousin, Joseph O'Brien's, Vieux Morvan, which belied his 33/1 odds, but eventually had to give way to Donie McInerney on Avergnat (28/1).
Paul Nolan's Fitzhenry (25/1) ran on to take third under Paddy Kennedy to earn a big chunk of the money also.
Forty minutes earlier at Leopardstown there was another significant success for a young son of a family steeped in Wexford racing tradition, the O'Keeffes of Harveystown, Taghmon, Nineteen years old Seán turned professional in the summer after sharing the national point-to-point novice riders' championship last season, and he has been making an impact already.
But he announced himself on the big stage in the €30k Paddy Power handicap hurdle with a really polished ride on the Jessica Harrington-trained Jetez (11/1). He took it up before the last and stayed on well. He had Ruby Walsh and Davy Russell behind him in second and third just to add lustre to the win.
Ted Walsh and others lavished praise on the young man. His dad, Jim, and his grandfather have been in horses all their lives. Trainer Harrington's verdict: 'Seán has a great head on him; he comes in to me a couple of days a week and he's great.'
The Hickeys from Garryrichard Stud are another family at the heart the Wexford horsey scene, and Seán O'Keeffe rode the Denis Hickey-trained Buckie Cullen in four of his point-to-point outings at the end of 2017 and into 2018, winning two of them.
Denis, also the owner and breeder, ran the 'Buckie' in the Guinness maiden hurdle at Limerick on Wednesday, and Jonathan Moore (Adamstown) steered the 7/1 shot to victory, one and a quarter lengths ahead of Coillte Eile (25/1).
Hickey remarked 'he is from the same family as Bob Treacy which won the Thyestes Chase twice for us in the past, but he will be sticking to hurdles for the time being'. This was just Hickey's fifth career win on the track and his second since 2015.
Earlier O'Neill had tried to make nearly all on De Bromhead's Spyglass Hill (6/1) in a three-mile handicap hurdle but was caught at the last by Robbie Power on 40/1 shot Route's Choice, and deadheated for second with Cappacurry Zak (9/2f).
Young James O'Sullivan from Camolin was very busy in Limerick all week and he came very close to a win in the handicap hurdle on Thursday on Philip Rothwell's (Tinahely) Miss Echrad (20/1), but was caught close home.
James Kenny, son of trainer Liam from Craanford, was second on John Kinsella's (Rathdrum) Summons to Court (14/1) in the Hunter's Chase.
An hour before Tom O'Brien's big win at Chepstow, Daryl Jacob was involved in an epic battle in the £65k Group 1 Coral Juvenile Hurdle on Adjali (4/6) for Nicky Henderson; he seemed to be coming to win the race but just could not get by the Paul Nicholls-trained Quel Destin (7/4) in a protracted battle.
My thanks to all in the racing business for their help over the year and I wish everyone a successful and safe time in 2019.