Snow Falcon more than made amends for his luckless effort in the Galway Plate by taking the Guinness Kerry National in front of a crowd of 25,610 at Listowel track.
Trained by Noel Meade for Patricia Hunt and ridden by Jonathan Moore, the eight-year-old took up a prominent position from an early stage this time and was spring-heeled over many of the early fences.
Comfortably, he held his position until the gambled-on Rogue Angel was sent into a clear lead going out on the final circuit. Moore was alive to the move and asked his mount to move into second place, and in pursuit of the leader as they went down the back for the last time.
The 6-1 chance went to the front at the third-last, travelled sweetly to go a few lengths clear early in the straight but seemed to idle late on, giving the fast-finishing Saturnas an opening. The leader drifted a little across the latecomer and, for the second day running, the stewards called an enquiry in the feature event.
On this occasion, however, the first past the post kept the race, much to the relief of his winning trainer, for whom it was one of the few races of its ilk absent from his CV.
“It was great to win it but would have been a curse to lose it (in the stewards’ room),” said Meade. “Everything went great for him through the race and he was just idling (in front) more than anything else.
“We planned to jump him off on the inside and just let him drift back in behind the front runners. We knew there would be plenty of pace, and we planned to sit in where he sat.
“Johnny rode him exactly the way we planned except maybe he went on a little earlier than I expected. But he said he didn’t want to stay with Rogue Angel and help him along. He wanted to pass him and put him to bed more or less.
“The horse trained very well since Galway, and I honestly thought the ground would help him because I think he was just a bit at sea on the fast ground in Galway. He wasn’t letting himself go early, and he didn’t travel over the early furlongs and the first couple of fences.
“He’s not an extravagant jumper but he’s usually reasonable, and he jumped great for Johnny today. I think he’s a very good rider and have thought it for a very long time. He does a lot of show-jumping, horses jump well for him, he has a beautiful pair of hands, and a great eye for a stride.
It’s tough on Sean (Flanagan, side-lined with a broken leg from a fall in Tramore) but Johnny is very much the one to go to after Sean.
The Aidan O’Brien-trained Japan justified favouritism in the first race, the Exchange Inn Ballybunion & Kevin’s Bar Listowel Irish EBF Maiden, but it was far from plain sailing before his class came through. He didn’t look entirely at home on the soft ground and didn’t enjoy the clearest of runs but picked up well in the final furlong to win by three parts of a length from Aristocratic Man, who had traded 1-2 in running.
Said winning rider Donnacha O’Brien: “He was green, and it took him a while to get the hang of it. He’s not used to a tight track, but once I got him going in the straight he rattled home.”
Trainer James Barrett saddled the first two home in the Listowel Arms Handicap and it went to market expectation as well-backed 9-4 favourite Time Queen, given a fine ride by the promising Gavin Ryan, got on top late to beat stablemate King Of Leinster, who posted a gallant effort from the front.
Pat Fahy, on the mark with Drop The Anchor on Tuesday evening, was back in the winner’s enclosure yesterday when Stormy Belle took the Brandon Hotel Handicap in the hands of another promising young rider, Ben Coen.
The fourth race, the Seamus Mulvaney Bookmaker Handicap, was the last of the flat races on the eight-race card and it provided the opportunity for Johnny Murtagh to saddle his first winner in Listowel, which he did with Prosecution, ridden by Shane Kelly.
The Joseph O’Brien-trained Air Supremacy, ridden by Mark Walsh, made it two from two over hurdles with victory in the Ballygarry House Hotel Novice Hurdle, but there was late drama before he got on top to give his owner, J P McManus, and his trainer a fourth winner of the meeting.
Getareason, who was in front and apparently going best, met the final hurdle all wrong and, in losing his momentum, opened the door to stable-mate Easy Game and to the eventual winner, who slipped through along the rails to snatch victory.
There was better luck for Getareason’s trainer Willie Mullins in the M S D Animal Health Hurdle in which Quick Grabim got off the mark over hurdles. Debuchet set quite a strong pace which suited the winner as he was free early. He moved up well to challenge turning for home and won with something to spare.
There was a huge upset in the final race, the Listowel Vintners Association Bumper, which went to 40-1 chance Nibblers Charm, trained in Toomevara by Ray Hackett and ridden by Eoin O’Brien.
The real drama occurred early in the straight, where the strong-travelling favourite Doctor Duffy was short of room behind Eileen O and Dancing In The Sky, and tumbled to the ground, an incident from which jockey Richie Deegan, thankfully, was able to walk to the ambulance before being brought to University Hospital Kerry in Tralee for further assessment. The incident was referred to the Referrals Committee.
The crowd of 25,610 was up from 24,911 on the same day in 2017. Tote turnover was down to €312,77, from €395,501, but bookmakers enjoyed an increase, with a figure of €747,101 compared with €616,981 in 2017.