For the second consecutive year, Bellshill put behind the disappointment of Cheltenham and near-miss at Aintree to score at this meeting, this time doing so in the grade one novice hurdle over three miles.
The 2-1 favourite tried this trip for the first time at Aintree and a jolting mistake at the second-last may well have cost him a winning debut over the distance. Having had to settle for second place, he arrived at Punchestown in search of compensation and, courtesy of a confident ride from Ruby Walsh, earned it in good style.
Held up quite some way off the pace from the outset as the leaders set off at a strong tempo, he eased into contention as the pace began to fall apart and, with a perfectly timed run, led at the last before picking up again to deny the renewed effort of the progressive Coney Island.
Said winning trainer Willie Mullins: “It was a great ride from Ruby – he had a lot of ground to make up from the stonewall, but he sat and sat, and just hoped they had gone a bit too fast in front. And that’s what happened.
“He was brave to do it, because if he had got beaten he would have been slated by everyone here – me probably included. The horse is very tough, and I’m really looking forward to him going over fences next year.”
Walsh, enjoying his first winner of the week, added: “Bellshill was tough, but pulled up like mad in front and I was thinking half way up the run-in that I might be in front too soon.
“It took us a while to figure out that he wanted a trip because he shows so much pace in his work. But we seem to have it now. He is a very good horse, and will be a beautiful chaser.”
The winner was bred in Killeagh by Frank Motherway, who sold him as a foal to Wilson Dennison for €23,000.
“It’s a great thrill to be here, these are the things you dream about – breeding grade one winners,” said Motherway. “This is his second victory at that level, having won the bumper here last year. When they come along they’re very sweet, but they don’t come along very often.”
Mullins completed the second leg of his treble in the afternoon’s first bumper when Blow By Blow gave Katie Walsh her maiden victory at grade one level.
Walsh sent the 14-1 chance to the front from the off and the imposing sort proved too tough a nut to crack for well-backed favourite Moon Racer, who was brought with every chance in the straight. “I was meant to ride Battleford but he was pulled out in the morning, and I was half tempted to ride Very Much So, but Willie said ‘no, Blow By Blow’ and I think he knows better than anyone,” said Walsh.
“I am just delighted to be on the right one. I have never won a Grade One before, and am massively over the moon.”
The treble was completed when Augusta Kate gave Mullins his third bumper success of the meeting, taking the mares’ event for son Patrick.
Forge Meadow looked to have the chasers in trouble when she kicked for home off the last bend but, under a persistent ride from Mullins, 100-30 favourite Augusta Kate got on top late to score. The winner is owned by a syndicate which includes Graham Wylie, presenters Ant and Dec, golfer Lee Westwood, former soccer star Alan Shearer, and sports agent Chubby Chandler.
The winner’s stable companion, newcomer Glens Harmony, went into the notebook after staying on late to take third place.
Said winning trainer Mullins: “Augusta Kate did what she does, but we don’t know why because she doesn’t show it to us at home. She’ll go hurdling next season, and we’ll aim her at the mares’ novice hurdle at Cheltenham, and hopefully the mares’ hurdle the following season. They’re the big plans for her. And Glens Harmony, who is Glens Melody’s sister, finished third, running on well. She’s one I’m looking forward to as well. She has a lot of maturing to do, but she looks like she has the potential to follow in her sister’s footsteps.”
Relating the day’s successes relative to the disappointments of Tuesday, Mullins added: “The wheels are back on the wagon. We’re definitely much happier with the way things panned out today.”
Jessica Harrington’s rich vein of form was once again evident when Woodland Opera landed the Louis Fitzgerald Hurdle. Ridden by Robbie Power, the 9-2 chance settled behind the leaders and, despite a mistake at the second-last, led after the last, and raced home two clear of the staying-on Val De Ferbet.
The winner had disappointed on his previous two outings, but his trainer explained the reason for his return to form.
“He had a wind operation, which seems to have worked,” added Harrington. “He was in a Grade One but we decided to come here as were trying to win a race. He’ll definitely be going chasing next season.
“He’s out of Opera Hat, who raced for Valerie and Carolyn (Waters) and won 13 times over fences when trained by my brother John (Fowler). She was sold to England but Valerie’s bloodstock agent son Patrick bought her and gave her as a present to his mother on Christmas Day. She bred Woodland Opera, so it’s a lovely story.”
Rebecca Curtis made a successful raid from her Welsh base when Irish Cavalier landed the Guinness Handicap Chase under rising star Jonathan Moore. Ridden prominently, he was sent to challenge from three out, led two from home, and galloped clear of Colms Dream.
“Everything was right for him today – the two-and-a-half-mile trip, the ground, and he loves the track,” said Curtis. “The only worry was that he had been to Cheltenham and Aintree.”
Eleven-year-old Shamiran, now with trainer Dermot McLoughlin, recorded a tremendous feat when taking the opening Martinstown Opportunity Series Final Handicap Hurdle for the third time.
Successful in 2012 and again last year - both times trained by Stephen Nolan - he and jockey Niall Kelly did just enough this time to deny the effort of well-backed 7-1 favourite Go Darsi Go by a head.
“He obviously loves it around here – his four wins over hurdles have come here – and the ground is obviously key to him,” said McLoughlin. “Once he has that ground, we’ll mix it with hurdles and fences with him.”
- The attendance was 18,181, up 1,301 on the same day last year, and bookmaker turnover was also marginally up, totalling €1,180,748, compared to €1,121,205 in 2015.