Byrnes bags Kerry National

CHARLES BYRNES produced one of the great training performances at Listowel yesterday when landing the Guinness Kerry National with Alfa Beat.

The horse has run just five times for Byrnes and is unbeaten, four successes over fences and once over flights.

The rate of improvement, however, that the trainer has conjured from the grey has been nothing short of staggering.

He won his first race for Byrnes at Roscommon back in June off a mark of 92. Yesterday, he competed off 137, a whopping 45lbs higher.

“He’s only six and is entitled to improve,” reported Byrnes, with an almost nonchalant air.

But that is very much to play down the achievement, because this was a phenomenal effort any standards.

Byrnes was worried about the rain-softened surface and Barry Geraghty, courageously, asked Alfa Beat to race wide as the contest entered the final mile.

Archie Boy and the Galway Plate hero, Finger On the Pulse, carried them along, until the former departed four out.

By now Geraghty had Alfa Beat racing alone and then he powered the winner through to throw down a strong challenge to Finger Onthe Pulse in the straight.

Alfa Beat led at the final fence and forged away on the flat to beat gamble of the race, Dancing Tornado, who was not helped by his jumping, particularly a blunder six from home.

Said Byrnes: “I’m over the moon, that makes up for Cloudy Bays seven years ago. He would have won, but for unseating his rider two out.

“I thought the ground had possibly gone against him and it was a brave decision by Barry to go wide.

“He’s a novice for this season, but the ground is a big thing for this horse. My long-term plan is the four mile at Cheltenham.”

Said Geraghty, successful previously on Montys Pass in 2002: “He struggled a bit on the ground, but came home surprisingly well. It was a great training performance.”

Davy Russell, who partnered Alfa Beat to win his previous race at Galway, would have been in the plate again, but for being claimed to ride the Gigginstown House Stud’s Mossbank.

But Mossbank’s trainer, Michael Hourigan, decided the ground wasn’t suitable and withdrew him, leaving Russell without a ride in the contest.

The ups-and-downs of this great game were never better illustrated than in a contest which followed the National, the Seamus Mulvaney Handicap Chase, won by Christy Roche’s Clarkey. Geraghty took a fall from Mahrajaan, suffering a suspected broken nose.

One Cool Tornado, rapidly on the upgrade, answered every call from Ruby Walsh to take the Ballygarry House Novice Hurdle.

He kept finding for the pilot’s pressure, hitting the front over the second last. Trail-blazing Casey Top never flinched, but was still a length and a quarter adrift at the line.

Trainer, Paul Gilligan, said: “I fancied him coming here, he is improving all of the time.

“He’s a tough horse and my only concern was the flat track. A two miles and five hurdle at the Cheltenham November meeting is the plan, with a view to the Albert Bartlett in March.”'

Heavily-backed Our Gar was cantering over the opposition for much of the trip, but this was his first outing of the campaign and he cut out heading to the home turn.

Triple bumper winner, Edward O’Grady’s The Real Article, made a good start over jumps in the Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health Maiden Hurdle.

His technique was slick and accurate and he was allowed to lead four out by Andrew McNamara.

Riverstown and Tony McCoy came from off the pace in the closing stages, but could never quite reel in the winner.

“He looks a lovely horse and I thought he jumped superbly for a first-timer,” said O’Grady. “He will have one more run, at either Tipperary or Limerick, and then will be put away. We will bring him back in the spring, but I think he is more an Aintree than a Cheltenham horse.”

Johnny Murtagh got off the mark for the week when driving the tough Clearwater Bay to land the Ladbrokes’ Conditions Race.

The Sadler’s Wells colt was being driven from a fair way out, but responded generously to Murtagh’s urgings.

He finally got to the front nearing the furlong pole and then found plenty to hold Icon Dream by half a length.

Said Murtagh: “About time, it’s been a long week. He is still a bit immature and a big galloping track would suit better.”

Pat Smullen rode his third winner of the meeting when driving Qubuh to victory in the Irish Wire Products EBF Maiden.

Mykonos tried to make all, but a combination of hanging towards the stands and a reluctance to go forward proved his undoing and Qubuh was the stronger through the last hundred yards.

Aidan O’Brien’s odds-on shot Exodus ran no sort of race, trailing in a well-beaten fifth.

David Marnane continued his fine run when Maundy Money defied top weight in the Exchange Inn Ballybunion And Kevin Broderick’s Bar Listowel Handicap.

The 14-1 shot got the best of a desperate last furlong duel with Picture Perfect, the verdict a short head. It was a 15th winner for rider, Sam James.

Punters went home on a winning note after Willie Mullins' Red Tiger obliged in the Bumper.

The 5-2 favourite stayed on dourly through the final furlong for Patrick Mullins to score going away.

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