Super Jacob treble
The Aintree Grand National meeting was a real success story for Wexford jockeys, with Daryl Jacob scoring a wonderful Group 1 treble.
In addition, Seán Flanagan had his first Group 1 win in Britain when he edged out Jacob in the Ryanair Stayers' Hurdle, and Jamie Codd won the Grade 2 mares' bumper on the opening day.
For me, the Wexford highlight was the £180,000 Ryanair race prior to the Grand National on Saturday. Flanagan had advised trainer Henry De Bromhead to up Identity Thief to three miles for the first time and he was proved right.
He and Jacob on Wholestone (7/2) joined battle up the home straight and Identity Thief (14/1) found plenty to pull clear by five lengths. It was wonderful to see the two Wexford riders, born within a few miles of each other, embrace with genuine delight after pulling up.
De Bromhead gave Flanagan full credit. 'You dream, but I wasn't expecting that. It was Seán's plan…we said we would leave it to him how he wanted to ride him and fair play to Seán.'
This was the icing on a wonderful season for Flanagan who is on a best-ever 56 winners in Ireland to be fifth in the riders' table.
He finished a highly respectable sixth an hour later in the National on Road to Riches (33/1) for Meade and the O'Learys, to pick up a very decent £30,000, more than you would get for winning most races.
I said several times in this column that I felt Daryl Jacob was in for a really good Cheltenham, but ground conditions and other things told against him and he had no Festival winner. However, it was a different story at Aintree and he had a remarkable three winners and two seconds in Grade 1 races for retaining owners, Simon Munir and Isaac Souede.
On Thursday he won the £250,000 feature, The Betway Aintree Hurdle, with a really clever ride on regular 'bridesmaid', L'Ami Serge (5/1), for Nicky Henderson. He took it up over the last and beat Robbie Power on Jessica Harrington's Supasundae (11/10) by three lengths.
Earlier, in the £100,000 Doom Bar juvenile hurdle, Jacob cut out the running on We Have a Dream (2/1) and ran away from them in the finish to cruise home by seven lengths. Henderson and the owners were delighted and were daring to dream of next year's Champion Hurdle.
In between those two races, the Davidstown man did his best to serve it up to Gold Cup second and hot favourite, Might Bite (4/5, in the £90,000 Betway Bowl Chase on the front running grey, Bristol De Mai (5/1), but he had to accept second.
There were huge Wexford connections to the winner of the opening race, the £100,000 Grade 1 Big Bucks Novice Chase, which saw Finian's Oscar (5/2) battling home for Robbie Power and Colin Tizzard.
The horse was bred by Richard and Martin O'Keeffe at Newtown, Taghmon, out of Trinity Alley. He was trained up to win his maiden point-to-point by Denis Murphy (The Ballagh), ridden by Jamie Codd for then owner Edelle Logan, before being sold on to the late Alan Potts for a cool £250,000.
The day ended on a winning Wexford note when Jamie Codd steered John Queally's (Waterford) Getaway Katie Mai (15/8f) to victory in the £45,000 Grade 2 mares' bumper, coming through in the final furlong.
In Britain the professionals ride in the bumpers, and amateur Jamie put them in their place with a strong finish.
However, his success has come with a severe cost as the Aintree stewards hit him with an excessive 17-day riding ban for over-use of the whip, even though the vets reported no marks or abnormalities on the horse afterwards.
On Friday, Jacob, Henderson and Co. were back at it again, with a comfortable win in the £100,000 Grade 1 Betway Mildmay Novice Chase on Terrefort (3/1f). Jacob played a waiting game and came through to take it up at the last and asserted on the run-in to win.
J.J. Slevin was on Tower Bridge (8/1) for Joseph O' Brien in the Grade 1 Sefton Novice Hurdle and picked up over £10,000 for third, behind winning favourite, Santini (6/4).
Jacob had picked up a much less glamorous winner at Market Rasen on Wednesday, aboard The Bottom Bar (7/4) in a £5,000 maiden hurdle, but they all count.
On the flat, Pat McDonald had a nice priced double at Kempton on Friday on Sea The Waves (4/1) and Spirit of Belle (12/1), and Pat Dobbs is home from the U.A.E. and eased his way back in with a couple of rides.
At home in Ireland, Paul Nolan kept his run going at Limerick on Thursday with a win by Rooster Byron (5/1) in a three-mile hurdle under Keith Sexton, and Liz Doyle had the clear winner of the bumper at Ballinrobe on Friday evening with Bois De Clamart (12/1) under rising Taghmon rider, Seán O'Keeffe, with Jamie Codd second on Ellemarie Holden's Jackson Hill.
At Tramore on Sunday, Leonard Whitmore's (Blackwater) well-backed Kingsteel (14s into 5/1) just failed to get up by a short head against National heroes, Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell, on drifting Monatomic.
Aidan O'Brien has started to bring out his stable stars on the flat and is sure to have a big say again in the classics ahead.