Gold Cup boost for Taaffe and Russell

TRAINER Tom Taaffe and jockey Davy Russell, who will have their attention focussed on today’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, were both on the mark in yesterday’s St. Patrick’s Day action at Wexford.

Russell, who will partner Pizarro in the Cheltenham show-piece, used enterprising tactics to bring favourite Esti Ab home a clear-cut winner of the opening Rosslare Maiden Hurdle. He made every yard of the running to record a 12 length victory for Co. Clare trainer Malachy Hassett.

Later the Tom Taaffe-trained Native Heights opened his account over fences when gaining a narrow victory in the Bettyville Park Beginners Chase.

This versatile gelding, ridden by Shane McGovern, got up close home to pip Laoch Dubh (Denis O’Regan) which made a costly mistake at the final fence.

Cork trainer Gerry Cully and rising star Davy Condon doubled up in the two handicap hurdles with Arc En Ciel and Estarana.

Arc En Ciel defied top weight in the Knockhouse Stud Novice Handicap Hurdle, stretching clear on the run-in to beat Mags Benefit while Estarana took full advantage of the 22lbs she was receiving from top weight and runner-up Killeaney in the Pinnacle Handicap Hurdle.

Pat Hughes, whose Point Barrow cost Irish punters plenty at Cheltenham, gained a small measure of compensation when the Karl Wyse-ridden Ashamdil justified favouritism in the Mares Bumper.

Meanwhile, at Down Royal, the Frances Crowley-trained Nil Desperandum returned to winning form when scoring a facile win over Kadoun and Aintree-bound Timbera in the Tennants No. 1 Chase.

Ridden by Tommy Treacy, Nil Desperandum triumphed by no less than 20 lengths to the relief of his trainer who must now decide on Festival options for the gelding between Aintree, Fairyhouse and Punchestown.

The colours of J.P. McManus were victorious in the opening Bass Maiden Hurdle when the Michael O’Brien-trained Johnston’s Swallow provided in-form Tommy Ryan with another success.

Ballyfin, a prolific winner on the Northern point-to-point circuit, recorded his first success under rules when landing the Stella Artois Hunters Chase for local trainer Ian Ferguson and amateur Andrew Lynch.

Jeremy Maxwell produced his second promising Bumper winner of the season when Hard Act To Follow, ridden by Robbie Dunne, proved a convincing 15 lengths winner in the finale.

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