Undoubtedly the biggest shocks of the day were the defeats of Wins Now (1/3) in the Richard Browne & Sons Ltd. Hurdle and Direct Exit (2/5) in the opening maiden hurdle at Down Royal.
But probably the most significant result of the day was the demise of apparent Grand National hopefuls Dun Doire and Point Barrow by In The Loop in the Tennents No.1.Chase, the feature event at the northern venue.
Baked from 14/1 to 8/1, former point-to-pointer In The Loop, trained near Larne by Roy Wilson, was enterprisingly ridden by Roger Loughran, enjoying a welcome boost, to see off the flattering Dun Doire by four and a half lengths with Point Barrow, having reportedly ‘gurgled’ before the third last fence, a similar distance away third.
With a rating of 102, In The Loop had, in theory, to ‘find’ upwards of 35lb. against his two illustrious rivals.
Trainer Wilson, having recorded the most notable win of his six-years with a licence, admitted to being “over the moon”.
Wilson explained: “He’s always been a decent horse, in his own grade. But he lost his confidence after a couple of falls.
“He ran OK for Robert Power in the Ulster National at Downpatrick and got his confidence back. Roger (Loughran) gave him a brilliant ride today.
“This horse stays all day. I don’t think he’ll get into the Irish National. So he’ll probably head for Ayr now, for the Scottish National.”
Dun Doire, “not good enough on the day” according to trainer Tony Martin remains a possible runner in the John Smiths Grand National while Point Barrow is now more likely to head for Fairyhouse for the Irish equivalent next Monday.
Earlier, at Down Royal, 2/5 shot Direct Exit had no answer to the power of German import Kronos in the Inbev Maiden Hurdle.
Kronos, ridden by Martin Ferris, is trained by Mervyn Torrens, who explained: “I fancied him quite a bit today, because he worked well with Quartetto at Navan in the build-up to Cheltenham. Soft ground is a must for him. He’ll make a lovely chaser next season.”
Later, Noel Meade suffered a reverse when 8/11 favourite Offaly blundered and unseated Paul Carberry at the third fence in the Haegaarden Beginners Chase, won by former ‘pointer’ Prince Of Leisure, making a successful racecourse debut under Robbie McNally for trainer David Broad who rates the gelding as “Probably the best horse I’ve had.”
Veteran Big Zoomo belied his fourteen years to win the Stella Artois Hunters Chase for McParlan family while Denis Cullen guided the Brian Hamilton trained Jenna Marie to an all-the-way victory in the bumper.
Two riders picked up one-day whip bans at Down Royal, Barry Cash for his winning ride on the Dot Love-trained Wesetrn Whisky in the Beck’s Vier Beginners Chase and amateur Mark O’Hare for his handling of runner-up Serious Intent in the bumper.
Meanwhile at Wexford, the shock of the day was the defeat of 139-rated, 1/3 favourite Wins Now, in J P McManus’ colours, in the Richard Browne & Sons Ltd. Hurdle.
Ridden by Niall ‘Slippers’ Madden, Wins Now was labouring from the fourth last flight but, having edged past Loughanelteen approaching the straight, he had no answer to the challenge of Call Me Max, which swept past to score by four and a half lengths.
The success of Call Me Max came as a “pleasant surprise” to trainer Eoin Doyle who will now run the six-year-old at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival next week.
Favourite backers looked set for some respite in the earlier Arctic Tack Stud Maiden Hurdle when Davy Russell sent even-money favourite Pin D’Estruval to the front nearing the straight.
But Arthur Moore’s charge found little on the run-in and was collared by the rallying Silver Palm, another winner for in-form Liz Doyle and Cler.
Russell enjoyed better fortune when Rossbeigh, trained by Pat Hughes, proved the only outright favourite to oblige in Ireland on St.Patrick’s Day, proving too strong for Parknakyle in the Pinnacle Handicap Hurdle.
Philip Fenton has been experiencing the highs and lows of the training profession in recent weeks and saddled 10/1 shot Down By The Sea to foil favourite Lady Roberta in the mares’ bumper.
But Fenton had no luck in the finale when favourite Good Time Bob could finish only fourth behind the Sean Treacy trained Flirthing Around, ridden by Emmet Mullins to outpoint Shinan Thyne.