Slevin's good week
Point-to-point graduates hit big time
It was a good week for Caim jockey J.J. Slevin, winning on New Year's Eve at Punchestown, at Fairyhouse on New Year's Day, and continuing the run at Cork on Saturday, all three saddled by his cousin, Joseph O'Brien.
He closed out the year on Tuesday with a comfortable win on Smoking Gun (7/2) for Gigginstown, beating his JP McManus-owned stablemate, Early Doors (9/4f), with Seán Flanagan third on Noel Meade's Eurobot (11/2).
Also at Punchestown, Barry O'Neill was second on Paul Nolan's Jeremy's Jewel (5/1) in a 17-runner bumper, behind Tom Gibney's Highstreet Roller.
Seán O'Keeffe was third in a handicap hurdle on Liz Doyle's Burlesque Queen (5/2), less than two lengths behind the winner.
Slevin won the second race of the new year, the 19-runner opener at Fairyhouse on Wednesday, with Home By The Lee (3/1) cruising in by four lengths, and Mikey Fogarty kept up his good run with a clearcut win on the Willie Mullins-trained Castlebawn West (2/1). Seán Flanagan had to be content with a couple of places.
At a Tramore meeting lit up by the smooth return of Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Al Boum Photo, the best Wexford effort was second by Jamie Codd on Arcadian Sunrise (10/1) in the maiden hurdle, behind Saint Roi (5/2) for Mullins and Townend.
Gordon Elliott had four winners on the Cork card on Saturday. Slevin and O'Brien did put a stop to his gallop in the two and a half mile beginners' chase with victory on Deilginis, gambled in from 12/1 in the morning to start at 5/1.
Seán Flanagan and Noel Meade tried to follow up on their recent Leopardstown Festival winner, Faughernon (6/4f), but found one too good in Elliott's Texard (11/4) under Jack Kennedy.
As we face into a busy second half of the season, Flanagan is in joint fifth place in the jump riders' championship with 35 winners, and almost €800,000 in total prize money.
Jonathan Moore is ninth on 30 winners, J.J. Slevin is 13th with 24, Seán O'Keeffe is 16th on 18, and Jamie Codd is 18th with 15 winners from just 84 rides.
Moore made the trip across to Sandown on Saturday for the £50,000 Grade 1 Tolworth Novice Hurdle to ride Jeremys Flame (6/1) for Gavin Cromwell, and put up a very creditable display to take second behind Robbie Power on the hot favourite, Fiddlerontheroof (5/4) for Colin Tizzard.
Fiddleontheroof kept up the great record of Irish point-to-point exports, having begun his career in the care of Shirley Berry (Tomhaggard) in a couple of points in April of 2018 before moving on to trainer John J. Walsh in Cork for €38,000.
He ran three bumpers for him, winning at Navan on March 18 last under Charlie Swan's son, Harry, and was then passed on to Colin Tizzard for a cool £200,000. And that price seems reasonable now that he's an impressive Grade 1 winner and hotly fancied for Cheltenham.
Oldgrangewood won the £70,000 featured chase at Cheltenham on New Year's Day for the Skeltons, and this one was a debutant point-to-point winner at Lingstown in March of 2015, ridden by Jamie Codd for Denis Murphy, The Ballagh. This was his sixth chase win in Britain.
And, of course, Envoi Allen kept up his unbeaten run in the Grade 1 at Naas on Sunday, and I have outlined his story here several times. A four-times bumper winner under Jamie Codd, culminating in the championship at the last Cheltenham Festival, he began his career with his point-to-point win at Ballinaboola in February of 2018 under Barry O'Neill for Colin Bowe, being sold days later to Tom Malone for Cheveley Park Stud for £400,000.
The website p2p.ie reports that this was the eleventh Grade 1 winner in the past couple of months to have graduated from the Irish point-to-point fields, and there have been hundreds of track winners from the same source in the past year.
In the light of all this, it is understandable that the demand for Irish pointers, a great many of them produced by Wexford yards, continues unabated despite all the uncertainties posed by Brexit and other concerns.
In Britain, Tom O'Brien began with a winner on New Year's Day at Catterick on hotshot Deise Aba (4/7) for Ollie Murphy.
On the televised Wincanton card on Saturday, he took the £20,000 feature on Gala Ball (4/1) for Philip Hobbs.
Daryl Jacob is expected to return to the track at Ludlow this Wednesday (January 8) after missing out on a month and lots of big races with a hand injury.
P.J. McDonald has been on a break since December 20, and is due to return to the saddle at Newcastle on Thursday.
He exceeded his personal best calendar year in 2019 with 132 winners (and the same number of seconds) and just short of £2 million in prize money, beating his 2017 total of 128, and 120 in 2018.
He was fifth in the official flat jockeys' championship which runs from May 4 to Saturday, October 19, and was also top five for the calendar year tables.