Killarney welcomed a bumper crowd to the opening day of the May meeting, and they were rewarded with weather befitting a summer festival. Eight races were down for decision and the most valuable of them, the Kelly Farm Modernisation Ltd Handicap Hurdle, was won in good style by Celestial Horizon.
Twice a winner on the Flat, the Joseph O’Brien-trained four-year-old has made a good start to his hurdling career and this was his second win in six outings over timber. In front three out on this occasion, he stayed on strongly to win as he pleased.
“He ran really well at Fairyhouse, made a few errors but that experience stood to him,” said JP McManus’ racing manager, Frank Berry. “He jumped much better today. I’m sure he’ll go for the Galway Hurdle now. It is the obvious place for him. They have done a fantastic job with watering the ground and he appreciated it.”
His victory completed a double for O’Brien and jockey JJ Slevin as they had also teamed up to take the opener, the Killarney Towers Hotel Maiden Hurdle, with Igraine. Due this winning turn following three consecutive runner-up finishes, the four-year-old filly was never far off the pace and readily went clear in the closing stages to account for Vocito and Rock Ya Boy Ya.
The Henry de Bromhead-trained Marvel De Cerisy was sent off a short price to take the Seamus Weldon John Deere Maiden Hurdle and the winning pointer made no mistake. It was an armchair ride for Rachael Blackmore, who sent him clear going to the second-last and put almost 20 lengths between her mount and nearest pursuer Babylon Beach.
Anna Bunina, trained by John McConnell and ridden by Simon Torres, has won four of the Flat and she equalled that figure over hurdles with a fine effort in the listed Easyclean Tourist Attraction Mares’ Hurdle.
Winner of the Scottish Champion Hurdle (handicap) two runs previously, she was well beaten in the Swinton Hurdle little over a week ago but clearly copes with a quick turnaround because when this race developed into a real buckle, she put her head down and battled on determinedly to beat Heia and Hidden Land by a length and three parts.
A drop back in grade worked the oracle for Max Flamingo, who had little trouble justifying favouritism in the Gerard O’Sullivan Memorial Novice Chase. Seventh in the Irish Grand National on his previous outing, he was ridden by Jack Kennedy on this occasion and from a long way out he could be called the winner. Baptism Of Fire and Egality Mans did their best to put it up to him, but Francis Casey’s horse’s class shone through.
Kennedy doubled up with Say Goodbye, who ran away with the Donie Sheahan Memorial Irish EBF Mares’ Beginners’ Chase. Gordon Elliott’s mare eased to the front three out and forged clear all the way up the straight to put a second winning mark on her card.
Owner JP McManus, earlier successful with Celestial Horizon, doubled up with Stealthy Tom in the Shay Rooney Handicap Chase. Under a confident ride by Shane Fitzgerald, the Enda Bolger-trained seven-year-old led at the last and ran on well to record a second course victory, having been successful here in October.
A tidy gamble was landed in the finale, the Killarney Oils Bumper, by the Eoin McCarthy-trained Lipa K. As big as 40-1 in the morning and returned just 5-1, the four-year-old debutant led two out, went a couple clear in the straight but was all out to repel the renewed effort of Felix Summus by half a length.
The victory came as no surprise to McCarthy, who revealed: “We loved this horse and when we took him away to work on grass, I was two days trying to sleep after it. We knew he was very good last January, and we have minded him as he is only a baby.
“He is a good horse and I think he will be sold now, but hopefully to stay in the yard. I’d love to keep a horse like him in the yard.”