The first leg came courtesy of the Ruby Walsh-ridden Dounikos, in the Thurles.ie Maiden Hurdle. Well backed overnight but a drifter in the morning, he attracted late support into 9-10 favourite.
The bumper winner looked likely to appreciate the step up to two miles and seven furlongs, and so it proved as he did more than enough to fend off a late rally from Robbina.
“He’s a big, honest galloping short, and stamina is key to him,” said Elliott. “Ruby said he idled a bit coming to the line, but he has done the job well, and we’ll look for another small race, over a trip.”
Elliott’s double came up when Hardline belied a lack of market confidence in the bumper. Third on his previous start this season, he was ridden patiently by Luke McGuinness, made rapid ground to challenge before turning for home, and won with more in hand than the length-and-a-half winning margin would suggest.
“He’s a horse that should win plenty of races,” said Elliott. “He was probably in front a bit too soon today, but he’s a horse with plenty of speed and will probably go hurdling now.” Of the winning rider he added: “Luke is good value for his 7lb claim, and we’ll make plenty of use of that.”
Ruby Walsh, winning rider aboard Dounikos, was also on the mark in the opening race, the Holycross Mares’ Chase, for which just two went to post. And those who backed or put 1-12 chance Listen Dear in to their multiples had some anxious moments along the way before Willie Mullins’ runner justified her market position. Her willingness to attack her fences almost proved her downfall as she was very long and low at the fourth and third-last, and stumbled slightly after the last. Thanks For Tea mounted a strong late challenge but the favourite held on with half a length to spare.
“She was a bit brave at times, but she is only a novice and it was only her second run over fences,” said Walsh. “She’ll improve for it. She has a huge appetite for jumping fences, but we may have to rein it in a bit.”
Kilcarry Bridge and jockey Danny Mullins were allowed to dictate matters in the two-mile-six beginners’ chase and the nine-year-old, from the in-form stable of John Ryan, made most of the opportunity to secure a maiden victory over the larger obstacles at the 17th time of asking.
Said Ryan: “He has been an unlucky horse over fences, but this looked an ideal opportunity. I hope the handicapper won’t be too hard on him for that, and I’ll look for a small handicap for him.”
After seven decent but ultimately unsuccessful runs in bumpers, the Dot Love-trained Bridge Native made her debut over hurdles in the Templemore Mares’ Maiden Hurdle and it proved a positive move as she got off the mark at the first time of asking. Ridden to lead in the homestretch, by Mark Walsh, she stayed on nicely to reward her supporters at odds of 7-2.
Punters whose late rush of money forced favourite Moonlit Theatre down to 13-8, from 9-4, had their fingers burned as, after racing prominently, she lost her place across the top of the track but finished strongly to take second place.
Teacher’s Pet made it three wins in four outings since August when running out an easy winner of the Ballagh Mares’ Handicap Hurdle for Philip Dempsey. The five-year-old, ridden by Luke Dempsey, jumped to the front at the second-last, raced clear to the last, and won with plenty in hand
“She loves that ground, and we’re probably lucky with the start we’ve had this winter,” said the winning trainer. “We’ll see what Frank (Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus) has to say, but I’d imagine she might take a break, as she wouldn’t like heavy ground. She’ll make a nice chaser in time.
“We have her half-brother, Whatareyoudoingtome, who has won three for us. While I was hoping the rain would stay away for her, I’d be hoping it will arrive for him for Saturday (Down Royal).”
The best finish of the day came in the Two-Mile Borris Handicap Hurdle, in which Game Puppeteer was brought with a telling late run by Paul Power, trainer and rider, to snatch victory from 50-1 outsider Millen Dollar Man and well-backed 8-1 chance Grey Mountain Mist.