The Kilsheelan, Co Tipperary man, who has been coming to the meeting “for over 40 years”, watched bemused as his two horses, Native Performance and River Cora, both graduates of the Tom Costello academy, fought out the finish.
In the end it was the Michael Hourigan trained Native Performance, third last year and racing from 4lbs out of the handicap, who wore down Willie Mullins’ River Cora to score by a neck.
O’Connor, who is in the farming and garage business, exclaimed: “I didn’t know who won, I just got excited. This is a tremendous training feat by two marvellous men.”
Unlucky horse of the contest was Charles Byrnes’ Cloudy Bays, who tried to make every post a winning one.
He came a bit wide into the straight, but headed to the second last full of running. Cloudy Bays was still a couple of lengths to the good rising to the obstacle, but hit the fence and parted company with Pat Verling.
River Cora was left in front, but Native Performance, on the pace throughout, found plenty for Timmy Murphy’s pressure to seize the initiative close home.
Said Murphy, who won the National previously on Mac’s Supreme for Ferdie Murphy: “This horse has disappointed me a few times, but was electric today.
“Michael has done a terrific job with him. It is a fabulous feeling to win. I am delighed for Michael, who has been so good to me over the past year.”
For Hourigan it was a third success in this time-honoured event, having also been successful with Dorans Pride and Deep Bramble.
“Timmy is a super rider”, said Hourigan. “He has a long ladder to climb, but is on the up. I am glad to be associated with him.
“We set Native Performance aside for this earlier in the year, but he lost his way. Donal O’Connor suggested we give him a run over hurdles and he recovered his form after that. The Munster National at Limerick will be next.”
Equine casualty of the race was John Joe O’Neill’s Putometnby, who was starting to back-pedal when blundering three out. He broke his back and had to be destroyed. Niall Madden, who took a fall from Thari, broke his right collar-bone.
Aintree Grand National hero, Monty’s Pass, ran prominently before weakening four out, eventually finishing seventh.
Said Jimmy Mangan: “I am delighted. Barry (Geraghty) said the ground was actually on the dead side for him.
“He is likely to go to Cheltenham for the Paddy Power meeting in November and then will be put away for another trip to Aintree.”
Pat Smullen is enjoying a terrific campaign and he was again seen at his best when taking the Patsy Byrne Race on Dermot Weld’s Former Senator.
Market leader Kassabat set a steady gallop until quickening appreciably with less than half a mile to run.
But Former Senator was tracking the leader throughout and found plenty for Smullen to go past the leader with less than a furlong to run.
“He is beginning to get his act together”, reported Smullen. “Ideally, I wanted to make the running, but Johnny (Murtagh) wouldn’t give me an easy lead, so I let him go on. This horse is going forward and, hopefully, will step up again.”
Smullen completed a double, moving his tally to 67 for the campaign, when enjoying an armchair drive aboard another Weld inmate, Battling Mac, in the Tom Browne Memorial Handicap.
The blinkered five-year-old found favour from a little 2’s to 11-8 and never gave his supporters any cause for concern. Smullen allowed him lead fully three furlongs out and it was all Battling Mac in the closing stages, six lengths the verdict.
Royal Alphabet, disappointingly, missed the Schering-Plough Animal Health Veterinary Hurdle and, in his absence, victory went to Michael Halford’s Felix the Great.
Indeed, he did the business with any amount in hand, looking a much improved horse in the process.
Pakiefromathleague led four from home, but was totally outclassed in the closing stages, as Adrian Lane eased Felix The Great past between the last two flights.
Dual bumper winner, Fatherofthebride, made an excellent start over jumps with an easy victory in the Betfair Maiden Hurdle.
He often runs lazily, but has a real engine when hitting top gear. Fatherofthebride was driven along a fair way out by Barry Geraghty, but powered into the lead coming away from the fourth last.
Heemanela tried to close, but never had a prayer against this relentless galloper.
Keith Hadnett hit the deck off Via Del Vento at the final flight and suffered a broken left collar-bone.
Willie Mullins’ newcomer, Euro Leader, was well touted for the Bumper, but drifted alarmingly from 5-2 to 9-2. Drifter or no drifter, he won in a canter after cruising into the lead inside the furlong pole.
Explained Mullins: “He has shown a lot at home, but just disappointed me in his last bit of work.”
Seamus Heffernan gave Silvergino a typically dashing drive to land the Ballygarry House Hotel Handicap.
Silvergino made every yard of the running, kicking away early in the straight and then holding the late rush of Knockanure Lad.
The tote turned over a new course record of €521,832, but the bookmakers were down some €90,000, from €1.9m a year ago to over €1.7m.
Finally, Norman Williamson, badly bruised when taking a fall from Active Member in a beginners chase on Tuesday, has been stood down until next Monday.