Spartan performance from Maestro illuminates Night Of Stars

Saturday night’s inaugural Night Of Stars at Shelbourne Park had its spills but, one unfortunate incident aside, it was overwhelmingly successful, and the Gain Feeds Open 600 which tailed the card, provided a fittingly spectacular finish to proceedings.

t was billed as a match between Sparta Maestro, the track record holder over this trip, and Ballymac Eske, the prolific British tracker boasting track records over 525 yards at Monmore and over 547 yards at Nottingham. And it didn’t disappoint.

Ballymac Eske, drawn one, broke the better of the two, but Sparta Maestro, drawn six, showed the superior early pace to take a length lead into the opening bend, by which time they had already opened up an advantage over the other four runners.

Sparta Maestro, as is his wont, raced wide down the back, leaving plenty of room for the overseas challengers to make his move. And Barrie Draper’s dog certainly showed big pace to the third turn. But Sparta Maestro, owned and trained by Phil Gough and John Fitzgerald, drove the bend, momentarily cutting off his challenger’s run. When he swung middle-to-wide into the home straight, another opportunity arose for Ballymac Eske.

For one second it looked as though the even-money favourite might take advantage but Sparta Maestro found extra in the stretch, forging ahead to win a thrilling race by a length, in 32.29.

“What a finale,” declared winning trainer Phil Gough. “It was great to see the two dogs battle it out.

“We didn’t have an ideal prep for this race but when you put them up on the scales you’re declaring them fit and, in any case, he could hardly have run any better.

“It’s a couple of weeks since we had to pull him out of the Leger and it was only yesterday [Friday] that we really got the ok to run him. I thought during the week that he was beginning to come right and I’m delighted with that run.

A brief first spell at stud beckons for the star tracker, before he returns to action to contest the early-season Classics in 2013.

“He’ll have a bit of a lay-off now, which will give us time to get him fully right,” added Gough.

“He’ll also go to stud for a while. It’s very hard to get a young stud dog established but he’s a terrific sort, capable of huge runs over a range of trips, and we’ll give him his chance.

“After that, the plan is to bring him back for all the big races next year.”

Earlier in the night, Borna Gem posted the fastest ever time by a bitch over 525 yards at Shelbourne Park when running out a brilliant winner of the Jim & Tony Lifelong Friendship Open Bitch.

Ruairi Dwan’s lady didn’t break to the very best of her ability but she displayed a stunning turn of pace to lead into the first bend.

She held a healthy advantage over College Maybe as they raced down the back, the pair impressively clear. A strong stayer over this trip, she bounded up the straight to a two-length victory over her persistent pursuer, in 28.08.

One of the biggest receptions of the night was reserved for the Declan Byrne-trained White Soks Roks, who justified favouritism in the 750. Owned by the Dogfathers Syndicate, who brought a sizeable contingent of vocal supporters, he scorched around a lap and a half of the track, in 41.44.

The unwelcome drama came in the Open 525, where Laurels winner Knockglass Billy was some two lengths clear of pursuing pair Droopys Jet and Refuge Of Sinner when the hare stopped two thirds of the way down the back straight. The race was declared void and will be re-run next weekend.

Knockglass Billy’s owner, Martin Murphy, accepted the misfortune magnanimously, adding: “It could have been awful lot worse, he could have been injured.”

Ardfert Thunder, taking his first step into all-aged company, produced a prodigious performance to take the Open 550 for Matt and Frances O’Donnell. The Munster Puppy Cup winner belied his inexperience when leading early and readily holding the late charge of Leger winner Cashen Mafuma by a couple of lengths in 29.58.

Jerry Griffin’s Future Boy (47.53, 850 yards), James Devlin’s Big Casino (18.70, 350) and Peter Tiernan’s Abbeyville (31.21, 575) also claimed victory in the Night Of Stars features.

The ‘undercard’ also featured the four quarter-finals of the Comerford Cakes National Puppy Stake, and there was a real shock when track record holder Paradise Madison suffered defeat in the first heat.

In a three-way share of the lead at the bend but racing widest of all, he was impeded between the turns, as Paddy Hennessy’s Leamaneigh Story slipped clear. The last-named quickly opened up a sizeable advantage and, while Paradise Madison showed big pace to move into second place leaving the backstraight, there was no catching the leader. Winner of the Irish Examiner A6 Stake at Thurles on his last start before this competition, he posted a super 28.15 in upsetting the odds-on favourite by four lengths.

Ronny Wuyts’ Rockchase Reem just did enough to deny the luckless Droopys Adler in the second heat, posting 28.75, while the Pat Buckley-trained Scolari Express took heat three in 28.46. Owen McKenna’s Fear Big Star earned his maiden success with a strong-finishing 28.42 victory in the last quarter-final.

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.


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