Our Monty, raised 19lb. by the handicapper after a smooth success at Limerick on Sunday and racing here with only a 6lb. mandatory penalty, justified red-hot favouritism in the 2010 Five Day Festival Handicap Hurdle.
Ridden with supreme confidence by Ruby, the 4/7 shot cruised through to chase Aladdins Cave turning for home. But, just as the possibility of Matt O’Connor riding a winner on his comeback ride (after a serious head injury) dawned on observers, the favourite challenged on the inside and, full of running, was soon in command before going away to beat Dafarabad by four and a half lengths.
Willie Mullins commented: “I hate coming back so soon with any horse but, after going up 19lb., we had to. He’s one of the sharpest jumpers hurdles I’ve ever had in the yard. Although my original plan after Sunday was to go chasing (he’s still a novice over fences), I’m not so sure now.”
The Mullins/Walsh double was initiated when Scholars Mate, formerly trained by Colm Murphy and having his first run since Christmas 2007, justified 11/2 favouritism in the Come Racing Again Tomorrow Handicap Hurdle.
Having his first run for the Mullins yard, the eight-year-old Shernazar gelding came from well off the pace to master recent Navan winner Mull On The Run and Altnadua, prompting Mullins to comment: “He’s a long time off, with leg trouble, and only came to me during the summer. I’d be a bit worried about him on softer ground.”
Cheltenham Festival winner Weapon’s Amnesty started a firm 5./4 favourite for his chasing debut in the Ambassadors Beginners Chase but had to settle for third spot, having jumped to his left throughout before staying on in the closing stages. Victory went to 20/1 shot Copsiano, trained by Mouse Morris and brought from well off the pace by Martin Ferris to record an emphatic eleven lengths win over Indian Pace.
Morris commented: “I though he might need it. I haven’t been hard on him, because he needed oxygen after his last run, at Listowel, and I didn’t know what to expect. His jumping won it for him.”
The new season at Punchestown opened with a victory for the Jessica Harrington-trained, Tommy Treacy-ridden Gimli’s Rock in the Tote Sports Lounge 3-Y-0 Hurdle.
“This horse was unlucky at Listowel although he wouldn’t have beaten my other horse (Mosstown), said the winning trainer. I’ve been waiting for a bit of nice ground for him since then. He’s a fresh horse and will keep going.”
Pat Mangan celebrated his nineteenth birthday in style when landing the www.punchestown.com Handicap Chase on the Edward O’Grady-trained Shazand, which got up on the line to short-head Arkendale.
Mangan, referred to by O’Grady as ‘Monty’, was having only his second ride since turning professional last week, and is a son of Jimmy Mangan, trainer of Aintree Grand National victor Monty’s Pass. O’Grady explained, “This horse won here first time over fences last year, but took a bad fall later and never recovered his confidence. ‘Monty’ schooled him last week and he went very well so I decided to let him ride him today. I’m delighted for the lad, but I have no idea where Shazand will go next.”
County Wexford owner-trainer Frank McGuinness has a tremendous strike-rate at Punchestown, where Blazing Sky recorded back-to-back wins in a mares’ listed event and that mare’s half-brother caused a 25/1 shock in the Punchestown Event Centre Maiden Hurdle.
Ridden by Alain Cawley, the seven-year-old rallied well before the final flight to get the better of The Hurl. A delighted McGuinness said: “He’s really a chaser and probably wants further. He’ll probably have one more run over hurdles.”
Another man with a tremendous record at Punchestown, John Kiely, was back in the winner’s enclosure after Araucaria, in the colours of longstanding patron Heinz Pollmeier, made a successful debut in the Thoroughbred County Mares Flat Race.
The daughter of Accordion, only eleventh turning into the straight, came home well to foil 33/1 show Minnie Wyse. She was a second winner in the saddle for David Kiely, no relation of the trainer. A delighted Kiely said: “She’s from a very, very old family which the Parkhills had. We bought her as a replacement for Black Queen (his winner of the 1998 Galway Hurdle). This mare is by Accordion, which gives her a touch of class. She’s nice and should improve plenty from this experience.”