Cooper, widely regarded as hot favourite to be Gigginstown House Stud’s new retained jockey, gave the Gigginstown-owned Lieutenant Colonel a confident ride in the opening New Year Maiden Hurdle, cruising through to lead at the second last before stretching clear to beat To Choose by fourteen lengths.
Hughes commented: “He’s a smashing horse and a great jumper. I thought he had improved from Navan, where he bumped into a good horse, and won really well. He should be able to compete in some of the good novice hurdles now.”
Hughes reflected on the fact that this opening race of the New Year provided him with his first training success, way back in 1980, when Church Island was successful.
Off The Charts, in the colours of J P McManus, completed the Hughes/Cooper double when winning the Special Offers In Bobbyjo Bistro Handicap Hurdle from day Dream Boy.
John Berry has a tremendous strike-rate at Fairyhouse and saddled the locally-owned Civena to land the Ratoath Community Beginners Chase at the expense of flattering odds-on favourite Talbot Road, which looked likely to land the odds going to the last before being overhauled by Civena and beaten half-length.
Adam O’Neill, who lost his whip early on the run-in, partnered Berry’s mare to victory, his 7lb. claim meaning that the winner was receiving 14lb. from the runner-up, a situation noted by the winning trainer: “She’s tough and loves that ground. The weight probably told. We’ll look for some black type for her now.”
The successful run of Gordon Elliott continued when former pointer Layla Joan, under a typically cheeky ride by Paul Carberry, got the better of favourite Tudor Fashion by a cosy length in the Bobbyjo Bistro Mares Maiden Hurdle.
Elliott commented: “It’s grand to get the New Year off to winning start. She’s a grand mare and did it well, although it wasn’t the strongest race. She stays well and will, hopefully, go on from this. She could go to England at some stage.”
Trainer Pat Fahy was, understandably, full of praise for David Casey after Thelobstercatcher got up close home to foil front-running Shellys Creek in the Fairyhouse Members Handicap Chase. Short of room between the last two fences and untidy at the last, the tough grey was switched right to challenge and stayed on dourly to triumph by a short-head.
“David was unbelievable, he’s riding better than ever,” declared a delighted Fahy. “I thought he’d struggle in the heavy ground — that’s why he went around the outside. He had to battle hard and likes it around here. We’d love to have a crack at the Thyestes, if he gets in, or he could go to Punchestown for the Grand National Trial (February 2).”
Local trainer endured the highs and lows of racing in the space of half an hour as Wooly Tom, ridden by his son Martin, and wearing first-time cheekpieces, won the Start The New Year @ Fairyhouse Handicap Hurdle shortly after stable stalwart Good Fella, a five-time winner, collapsed and died after the previous race.
Mooney had mixed emotions and admitted: “I decided to try the cheekpieces, but I was afraid he’d be too free in that ground. He stuck at it well. And it’s a boost after what happened to Good Fella, a great servant to us over the years.”
The Dermot Weld-trained newcomer Vigil was an uneasy favourite for the bumper and couldn’t cope with the form-horse of the race, the Johnny King-ridden Cillian’s Return, only a second National Hunt winner for Curragh trainer Bill Farrell, who won a Fairyhouse bumper with Kraymer back in August 2000,
“He had the form and did it well,” said Farrell. “He improved from his run in Punchestown and will come on again. I don’t know where he’ll go next.”