Russell plays the right Game

The Listed four-runner Horse And Jockey Hotel Hurdle at Thurles yesterday developed into a real battle of tactics and it was Davy Russell on Willie Mullins’ Midnight Game who got it spot-on.

Arnaud took them along at a sedate pace and Russell was always perfectly poised to strike, just in behind.

The champion jockey made his move over the third last and got first run on market rival, Joxer, rather surprisingly held up, considering he was in receipt of 10lbs from the winner.

Joxer tried hard to close in the straight, but Midnight Game was in full flow and crossed the line a comfortable length to the good.

Commented Mullins: “He’s improving and we’ll slowly move him up the ladder. If I can just find a few more races like this one then I’ll be quite happy.”

Mullins introduced yet another of his endless supply of French-imports, Unika La Reconce, to easily land the Gift Horse Gallery Horse And Jockey Hotel Mares Maiden Hurdle.

She was taken from a flash of evens to 8-11 on track and, despite some indifferent jumping, trounced Speckled Wood to the tune of 12 lengths.

Ruby Walsh soon had the four-year-old bowling along in front, pushing her well clear from before the final flight. Said Mullins: “Looking at that I think she is much more of a chaser. She is a fine big mare and will stay novice hurdling for this season.”

When Captain Canada, trained by Terence O’Brien for Watergrasshill owner, Richard Gardiner, performed deplorably in a bumper at Limerick it left connections totally perplexed.

But the wheels were back on the wagon after the five-year-old landed the INH Stallion Owners’ EBF Maiden Hurdle.

Explained O’Brien: “I thought he’d win at Limerick, he was working well going there.

“I have no explanation, but since then he won a schooling hurdle very easily here. I think he’s a good horse and will make a very good chaser.”

Paul Townend was in the plate and he eased the winner into the lead at the second. War Correspondent tried to close through the final half mile, but was always fighting a losing battle.

Jimmy Mangan’s Noras Fancy had been struggling for a bit of form, but came back to her best in the Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Chase.

She is owned by Michael Dixon from Galway and the mare is called after his wife, Nora, who died recently.

The six-year-old found plenty for David Splaine pressure, staying on strongly from the last to beat gallant top weight, Colls Corner, by three lengths.

Said Mangan: “We felt she wasn’t concentrating enough and the fitting of a visor was a big help. As well as that she loves heavy ground.”

Byerley Bear, trained by Robert Tyner for J P McManus, was easily best for money in the Bumper and strolled to victory.

Partnered by Barry O’Neill, she eased ahead over a furlong down to score going away by eight and a half lengths.

“After running here the last day, she came back with a huge knee”, said Tyner. “We had her X-rayed on the way home, but found it wasn’t serious. I’d imagine a maiden hurdle will be next.”

Colin Bowe’s Whiskey And Red went off a well backed favourite in the Molony Cup Handicap Chase, but appeared to be struggling to get to grips with front-running Robertstown Rover from a fair way out.

Davy Russell, initiating a double, never gave up, though, and Whiskey And Red kept finding to prove too strong for his rival from the final fence. “He’s in at Down Royal on Wednesday and, if he’s sound after this, will turn out again”, reported Bowe.

The layers got a decent result when Missie Ella cropped up at 25-1 in the Exit 6 To The Horse And Jockey Novice Handicap Hurdle.

Trained and ridden by Denis Hogan, she raced near the front throughout, before rallying to forge clear between the last two flights.

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