Nine Stiches provided the first leg when running out the easiest winner of the afternoon, in the Thurles Maiden Hurdle. The 5-1 chance had his supporters in the market, and those punters had few anxious moments.
Never far off the pace, he quickened up to take control approaching the turn for home, and readily extended his advantage to beat his rivals by 27 lengths and more.
“He has been very consistent, and deserved that,” said Walsh. “They went no gallop at Limerick and it didn’t suit him, so Brian (O’Connell, jockey) wanted to make plenty of use of him today.
“He is the first winner for owner Sean Quirke, a farmer from Charleville. We’ll have to see what the handicapper does before deciding where to go next, but I expect will jump a fence next season.”
The double came courtesy of Positive Approach, in the Thurles Handicap Hurdle. On the mark at Limerick on his previous outing, he travelled kindly for Philip Enright on this occasion, and could be called a winner a long way out. Also a 5-1 chance, he eased clear in the closing stages to beat Toushan by more than six lengths.
“He looks like a good horse, doesn’t he?” said Walsh. “He went well for Philip, jumped very well, and loves that sort of ground. The win at Limerick gave him a bit of confidence, and he has come on quite a bit for it.
“He was a difficult horse and very raw, but we gave him plenty of time. Hopefully he’ll turn into a good chaser.”
Swamp Fox, ridden by David Mullins for trainer Joseph Murphy, earned his stripes with a gutsy display in the opening race. Never Again was given a positive ride and looked to have her rivals in trouble as she extended her advantage racing off the final bend. The filly was still a couple clear on landing at the back of the final flight, but it soon became apparent the market principals were not finished.
Swamp Fox (7-4) and well-backed odds-on favourite Cradle Mountain responded to pressure and, in a driving finish, the former prevailed by half a length from the latter, with Never Again just a neck back in third.
“We’ve always liked him. He never runs a bad race, and showed lovely battling qualities today,” said Murphy. “He’ll have another run in a handicap and if he gets into the Fred Winter, he’ll go there.”
Dragon Khan carried the second colours of owner JP McManus to victory in the Killinan Handicap Hurdle. Patiently ridden by Jody McGarvey, he made stylish progress along the side of the course, and looked a winner early in the straight. Under a confident ride, he moved past long-time leader Knockraha Pylon approaching the last hurdle, and stayed on well to win readily.
Trainer Charles Byrnes and jockey Davy Russell combined successfully to take the two-mile-six maiden hurdle with the gambled-on Oscar Lantern. Available at 6-1 on Tuesday evening and still 9-2 yesterday morning, he was taken at all prices down to a starting price of 11-10.
Ridden right behind the pace from an early stage, he wasn’t foot-perfect at a couple of his hurdles, but travelled strongly to challenge approaching the home straight. Under pressure soon afterwards, he forged to the front between the last two but made a bad mistake at the final obstacle.
That re-opened the door for long-time leader Gran Cavallo, who moved back upsides on the run-in, but Russell regathered Oscar Lantern and got the upper hand late to win by a length and a half.
Said Byrnes: “He had a good run at Navan and, even leaving winner Bellshill aside, it’s a race that worked out well. We’ll probably go handicapping with him now because he’s not good enough for novice races.”
Another fine punt was landed when the Oliver McKiernan-trained Luckyinmilan, ridden by Ian McCarthy, left all previous track form behind with a battling display in the Munster Handicap Hurdle. Runner-up in a point to point early last year but unmapped on all previous starts inside the rails, he was as big as 50-1 in the morning but backed down to 8-1. The seven-year-old, ridden prominently from the outset, justified that support by staying on dourly to repel the renewed effort of top-weight Fiddlers Bow.
In the bumper, Any Drama enhanced Pat Fahy’s record at Thurles, giving the Leighlinbridge trainer his fifth winner from seven runners at this track this season. Steadily progressive in three previous outings, the 7-1 chance benefited from a positive ride form Katie Walsh, and pulled clear up the straight to beat odds-on favourite Sutton Manor by a wide margin.
Said Fahy: “We always felt that was in him, but we hadn’t the courage to ride him that way in the Land Rover Bumper. He was finishing his races full of running but they turned into sprints, so we rode him more positively.
“He could end up in the sales. Other than that, he will run at Punchestown and then be put away for the summer. He could be a good horse next year.”