The ten-year-old, better known for his exploits over staying trips, coped well with the two and a quarter miles, readily brushing aside the challenge of Holly Tree to triumph by two and a half lengths in a race which saw favourite Jayo trail in a well-beaten fifth after making a costly mistake.
Martin commented: “He’s been a bit of a problem horse. But that worked out great. He’s not a bad horse when things fall into place for him. A good horse on his day.
“He’s shown how versatile he is, going back over hurdles at Cork the last day and, now, winning over this trip. It’s great for the lads. They were so dejected after Navan (when the horse was disqualified on technical grounds, having won the An Uaimh Chase).”
The winner is owned by the three-man Dunsany Racing Syndicate, headed by Jack Quinn, full-back on the Meath’s All-Ireland winning team of 1967. With ground conditions in his favour, Martin will consider keeping Royal County Star on the go over the coming weeks, if he can find suitable opportunities.
Davy Russell completed a double when brining the Joanna Morgan-trained Mutadarek from last to first to foil flattering top-weight Motaraqeb in the Tote Sports Lounge Handicap Hurdle, pouncing at the final flight before edging clear.
Trainer Morgan, still on a crutch as she battles to recover from a broken leg, said: “The ground was a worry, because he’s a good ground horse. But he likes passing horses. That’s why Davy rides him that way.
“He’s a good little horse on his day, a horse with loads of ability. I’ve entered him in a few flat races and he’ll probably mix it over the summer.”
Also in double form were Michael Morris, Niall ‘Slippers’ Madden and County Cork owner Michael O’Flynn, a combination which completed a spectacular 311/1 double with Baily Rock and Elsyian Rock in the divisions of the Panoramic Restaurant Maiden Hurdle.
Baily Rock (25/1), described by Morris as “a good ground horse”, got the better of the Noel Meade-trained favourite Prima Vista in the first division and will be kept going over the summer.
And, after Elysian Rock, a half-brother to the classy Venalmar, completed the double at the expense of another favourite - Total Excitement - staying on strongly to record a convincing win and prompting Morris to comment: “He had a few bad runs in heavy ground. But we had his wind done and that has made a big difference to him. He’s a nice horse and will make a lovely chaser in time. He’ll be better on nice ground.”
After a few reverses, favourite-backers enjoyed a change of luck when Last Draw, impressive winner of a bumper on the track last week, made a successful hurdling debut in the Visit Punchestown.com Maiden Hurdle. Owned by the Trotters Ind. Trading Syndicate, which enjoyed tremendous success with Over The First, Last Draw clipped the top-bar of the final flight before beating Carheenlea readily.
Last Draw is trained by Charlie Swan, who is attending Doncaster Sales. But winning rider David Casey commented: “I hit the front an hour too soon, because they weren’t going fast enough for me. He missed the last, because I let him fiddle it. I didn’t want to ask him and put him on the floor. He’ll probably have a break now and should develop into a nice horse when he goes over fences.”
Kieran Purcell, a three-time All-Ireland winner with Kilkenny in the seventies, saddled Paddy Pub to win the Conyngham Cup in good style from Canadian Sunset.
The six-year-old, which failed to attract a single bid at the recent sales in Cheltenham, is proving quite a money-spinner for Purcell and the Kilkenny-based Big Five Syndicate, having now won two point-to-points, two hunter chases and this first excursion into handicap company.
Purcell said: “He jumps and stays and I suppose that’s all that was needed tonight. It’s the end of the season and we should be finishing up with him. But, if the ground stays on the soft side, he might be kept in. I’d love to think he’d be good enough for a crack at the Galway Plate, but only if the ground was suitable.”
John ‘Shark’ Hanlon won the Getcover.ie Mares Maiden Hurdle with 14/1 shot Give A Little, ridden by talented 7lb. claimer Conor O’Farrell in the colours of his father Seamus to beat Bold Bibi.
“I knew she had improved a lot from her first run, when she didn’t jump well, and fancied her tonight,” explained Hanlon. “That was lovely. But I don’t know where she’ll go. I haven’t looked beyond this. I suppose I’ll find a ‘winners of one’ for her somewhere.”
Jamie Codd, who has enjoyed such a tremendous strike-rate in recent months, struck again when bringing the David Broad-trained Milbig Lass to beat Gleanntan in the mares bumper. Fourth on her debut at the Festival here, the daughter of Shernazar scored by a length and survived a Stewards Enquiry, although Codd was found guilty of careless riding and severely cautioned.