Nine Wexford winners in busy week
Horse racing: Nolan ever so close
It was a week of brilliant racing, at Limerick and especially at Leopardstown, where many horses we can expect to see at Cheltenham in March were in action.
Paul Nolan came agonisingly close to grabbing the 27-runner, €200,000 Paddy Power Chase at the Dublin venue on Friday, his Fitzhenry being denied in the dying strides.
Nolan had a big team out over the week and while a bumper at Limerick was his only winner, many of his horses ran well.
There were winners also for riders Seán Flanagan at Leopardstown (two), Mikey Fogarty at Down Royal and Limerick, Barry O'Neill and James O'Sullivan at Limerick, and Jordan Gainford and Jamie Codd at Down Royal, while J.J. Slevin had quite a few placed rides.
Barry Geraghty took it up on Nolan's Fitzhenry (6/1f) on the run-in after three gruelling miles, only to be caught by a storming late burst from Roaring Bull ((16/1) under Jack Kennedy for Gordon Elliott.
It was a good effort by Geraghty who was hampered by a slipping saddle on the run-in, but connections did have the consolation of a €40,000 cheque!
Mikey Fogarty from Cleariestown has returned to the saddle after an absence of nearly four years, and he must have been dreaming of hitting the jackpot in this race on the Willie Mullins outsider, Chef Des Obeaux (25/1).
He was to the forefront throughout and recovered from a bad mistake at the third last to press the leader again at the last but slipped back to fifth in the end, just over six lengths behind the winner.
Fogarty got a winner the previous day at Down Royal in the €20k Auction maiden hurdle when he scored a very comfortable five and a half lengths victory on Russian Diamond (5/4f), from James O'Sullivan (Camolin) on the Philip Rothwell (Tinahely)-trained and owned Behind the Curtain (9/1).
He ended the week on a winning note also when scoring by a big margin at Limerick on Sunday on the Willie Mullins-trained Cut The Mustard (7/2), beating Bryan Cooper on Paul Nolan's Denham Hana (8/1) in a mares' beginners' chase.
Nolan also got second on La Feline in a maiden hurdle (ridden by Cooper) and Lotus Hill (16/1) in a handicap hurdle (ridden by Kevin Sexton).
The big race at Leopardstown on Saturday was the €170k Savills Grade 1 chase, and it was remarkably similar to the Paddy Power as Jack Kennedy overhauled Rachael Blackmore on Monalee, her foot slipping out of the stirrup close home.
Seán Flanagan was third on Noel Meade's Road to Respect, winning €17.5k. He was brought into the race at the right time but a slightly slow jump at the last cost some momentum. However, it was another decent run.
J.J. Slevin got great runs out of some long shots. He seemed to have got the Christmas Handicap Hurdle on Youngnedofthehill (25/1) in the bag for Shane Nolan (Kildare), but was collared close home by Kennedy on Dalton Highway (9/2f), and he was also second on Joseph O'Brien's Fun Light (25/1) in the opening maiden.
At Leopardstown on Thursday, Seán Flanagan got among the winners on the Meade-trained Faughuernon (9/1), taking it up one hundred yards from home, staying on well to hold another Gigginstown runner, Accidental Rebel (33/1), by half a length in a 25-runner novice handicap hurdle.
Flanagan doubled up in the opening race on Friday on a 33/1 outsider, Leagan Gaeilge, a mare bred by renowned Wexford flat trainer, Jim Bolger, and in the colours of his wife, Jackie.
Flanagan prevailed by three parts of a length from Jonathan Moore (Adamstown) on Gavin Cromwell's fast-finishing Theatre of War (20/1).
He also picked up some very good place money, winning €12,500 for being third on the outsider, Ordinary World (33/1), in the €125k Grade 1 Chase, behind the big two, A Plus Tard (4/1) for Blackmore and Mullins hotshot, Chacun Pour Soi (8/15).
He won another €20k for coming in second in the €100k Grade 1 Paddy Power Future Champions novice hurdle on Friday on rank outsider, Heaven Help Us (25/1), only being headed at the last by Abacadabras.
There were many Wexford connections in the places in the €50k Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle on Thursday, but they were strung out behind the impressive Aspire (15/8f).
Second was Wolfe Prince (8/1), ridden by Jonathan Moore. J.J. Slevin was third on Joseph O'Brien's A Wave of the Sea (5/2), and fourth was Clemencia (7/1), another Jim Bolger product.
After all that, there was a quiet Wexford conclusion at Leopardstown on Sunday. Flanagan was riding without success in Limerick, and J.J. Slevin's second on Joseph O'Brien's Sempo (7/2) was the only result of note.
It was disappointing that the drying ground caused quite a few withdrawals, and there were just eight runners in the two valuable Grade 1s.
On day one in Limerick on Thursday, Paul Nolan and point-to-point champion Barry O'Neill combined to win the bumper in impressive style with Tucanae (4/1). This one won her point-to-point maiden at Dromahane in April this year when handled by Richard Black in Bunclody and ridden by Luke Murphy, and was later relocated to the Nolan stable.
On Friday, O'Neill was on the David Christie-trained favourite, Winged Leader (6/5), in the Hunter Chase, but had to give best to Samurai Cracker (12/1) under Johnny Barry, while Seán O'Keeffe was a distant third on Paul Nolan's Valentina Lady (9/1) in a mares' maiden hurdle.
On Saturday at Limerick, James O'Sullivan recorded his fifth win of the season in the novice chase on Halsafari, landing a big gamble for the Bowes from Gathabawn, Kilkenny.
The horse was backed in from 28/1 in the morning to start at 6/1. The Camolin rider got a two-day ban for whip use but his connections were delighted with his efforts.
Seán O'Keeffe (Taghmon) was a distant second in the Auction maiden hurdle on Liz Doyle's Silk Row (20/1).
Young Jordan Gainford from Caim has been making a name for himself on the point-to-point scene, and he had his second track success in a tough looking Hunter Chase at Down Royal on Thursday when he took the lead after the last and stayed on stoutly on 25/1 shot, Dylrow, to score by a length for northern trainer, David Christie.
'Jordan rode him brilliantly and is going to go a long way,' Christie predicted. He had a lot of big guns behind him.
Jamie Codd romped home on the Elliott hot shot in the bumper, Farouk D'alene (4/6f).
In Britain, Tom O'Brien had a Stephen's Day double at Wincanton on Supamouse (7/2) and Third Wind (11/2), both for Hughie Morrison, while Daryl Jacob missed all the big action with a hand injury.
Over the four days of Christmas racing at three venues, the big yards really dominated with Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins winning ten each; Joseph O'Brien eight and Henry De Bromhead seven, while Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown operation owned 19 winners. It's hard to compete with that.