River earns crack at Criterium de Saint-Cloud

Meekong River earned a crack at the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud in Saint-Cloud next Saturday when landing the listed Eyrefield Stakes at Leopardstown yesterday.

The unbeaten Galileo colt made all to justify 4/6 favouritism in convincing style and provided the highlight of a treble for Aidan O’Brien and jockey Seamus Heffernan on the final day of the 2013 flat season.

O’Brien and son Joseph ended the campaign as record-breaking champions with 135 and 126 wins respectively while Cork teenager Connor King won the Apprentice Championship. Mrs Jackie Bolger was the season’s champion owner.

Winner of nurseries in Killarney and Listowel, Meekong River dictated the pace in the Eyrefield and, driven clear up the straight, ran on strongly to slam Achnaha by six and a half lengths. Heffernan explained: “He’s tough and ran hard and fast all the way. Aidan told me to find out about him today, to see if he should go for the Group 1 in France next week. He’s a bit lazy at home but is improving all the time.”

Earlier, the lightly-traced Francis Of Assisi proved a length and a half too strong for the Dermot Weld-trained favourite Big Break in the listed Knockaire Stakes over even furlongs. The performance delighted winning rider Heffernan, who said: “We’ll be keeping him! He had very good form in soft ground in the spring but had a little setback and was disappointing in his first run back at the Curragh — he didn’t enjoy the ground.

“He should make a very nice four-year-old next year and will be a good ride in some of those better races.”

The O’Brien/Heffernan treble had been initiated when newcomer Blue Hussar, a son of Montjeu, came from well off the pace to land the seven-furlong Irish Stallion Farms 2-Y-0 Maiden.

“I was on the best horse in the race and Aidan told me to take my time,” said Heffernan. “It took a while for the penny to drop, but he won well at the finish. He’s a Montjeu with plenty of ability and could be nice, if he progresses.”

Johnny Murtagh rounded-off another successful season when landing the €100,000 Movember Handicap on the Jimmy Lambe-trained Sir Ector, which held Quick Jack by a half length to register his second premier handicap win of the season.

Lambe declared: “I always felt he’d win a pot like this. Johnny rode him in the Curragh the last day and told me to run him in the November Handicap, that he’d ride him and that he’d win. He says he’ll be a horse for good staying races next year, races like the Yorkshire Cup. He’s a horse with plenty of ability and might have a run over hurdles before he gets a break.”

It was a significant day too for trainer Dermot Weld who triumphed with his first runner for the Aga Khan when debutante Balansiya ran out an impressive winner of the two-year-old fillies maiden. The Shamardal filly took over early in the straight and kept quickening up the straight to triumph by seven lengths, prompting Weld to state: “She’s just a lovely filly and that was a nice performance. She’s a good ground filly and wouldn’t want it any softer than today. She has been working vnicely and should develop into a stakes filly next year.”

Weld completed a two-year-old double when 14/1 shot Elegant Peace, ridden by stable apprentice Leigh Roche won the nursery, beating Balmont Blast by a neck after a good tussle.

“He’s a smashing, straight-forward lad that loves an ease in the ground,” said trainer Michael Halford after the Shane Foley-ridden Castle Guest proved an emphatic winner of the Leopardstown Club Members Handicap, “He jumps well and will have a run over hurdles next. But he won’t run in real winter ground.”

Andy Oliver brought his tally for the season to 20 when well-backed 2/1 favourite Al Murqab, ridden by Gary Carroll, proved best in the Leopardstown Christmas Festival 2013 Maiden.

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