The Jim Strang & Sons Kilsheelan (Peugeot) Hurdle topped the bill on Thursday’s card in Clonmel and Floueur turned the race into a procession. Ridden by Davy Russell for trainer Gordon Elliott, who can do little wrong at present, the seven-year-old returned to something like his very best form.
Revelling in the testing conditions and, consequently, always travelling kindly, he hardly had to come out of second gear to hit the front with three to go. Asked to take control of the race going to two out, he sauntered clear and could afford to be eased after the last to record a wide-margin success from the staying-on Diol Ker.
Russell said: “He went well and jumped great, and he loved the ground, and the distance. He ran in the Munster National and made a mistake up the back, and, in handicap chases, you can’t do that. Gordon, wisely, brought him back over hurdles and he seemed to enjoy it here today.
“The race and the conditions suited. We didn’t have that much opposition, and he was able to hold his place quite easily through the race. All those things combined helped him, but I think all the credit should go to the trainer — that would be the common denominator.
“He’s a very big, scopey horse, a gorgeous horse, but his feet and his brain don’t always work together. Today was comfortable, and I was allowed to get him into that rhythm, so it was perfect.”
Victory proved to be the middle leg of a 23-1 treble for Elliott, the first leg having come when Santonito justified favouritism in the opener, the ClonmelRaces.ie Qualified Riders’ Maiden Hurdle.
However, the complexion of the race changed dramatically late on. The winner, ridden by Jamie Codd, had tried to make all the running but was passed coming down the hill for the final time.
Eye Van took it up at that stage, but Sir Argus was just getting on top when falling at the second-last. The eventual winner was hampered at that point but in the testing conditions, he showed great determination to get back up to beat market rival Eye Man.
Elliott’s treble came courtesy of a fine ride from Sam Ewing aboard Womalko in the Next Meeting Thursday January 12 Novice Handicap Chase. The odds-on favourite looked to be in trouble coming down the hill for the final time, but Ewing took his time before asking for one run, which got him to the front on the run-in.
Following a fine fourth in a good maiden hurdle, Conna Cottage only just qualified for the Kilsheelan Maiden Hurdle, restricted to horses previously unplaced under rules, and he made the most of the opportunity. Keith Donoghue eased his mount into a challenging position racing to the second-last, and duly went clear to land the odds. The six-year-old has plenty of size and scope and could develop into a useful performer.
“It’s grand to get his head in front,” said winning trainer Gavin Cromwell. “He was fourth the last day, and just qualified for this. It was quite a drop in class. He was runner-up in a point-to point before I bought him and then I ran him on good ground in Navan, in a bumper, and he missed a year. He’s a fine big horse, and I think he’ll improve away.”
The Mouse Morris-trained Bluebell Diva made it three consecutive winning favourites to start the card when taking the third race, the Happy Christmas To All Our Patrons Handicap Hurdle.
Runner-up to Capture The Action in Limerick, she was well-supported this time, and Ricky Doyle ensured she was well-positioned throughout. Warm In Gorey loomed large going to the second-last, but the favourite picked up again and won with a little to spare.
Hard Target gained due reward for his consistency when taking the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Hurdle for trainer Harry Kelly and jockey Cian Quirke. The five-year-old was a close third in handicaps in August and September and not beaten far when sixth last time out, at Fairyhouse.
Tackling much more testing conditions proved no problem as he moved up nicely to challenge long-time leader Fox Le Bel three out, and then readily raced clear over the last couple of obstacles to win by a wide margin from the staying-on Lake Chad.
Jody Ted, who won twice over hurdles, made it second time lucky over the larger obstacles when running out an impressive winner of the Clonmel Racecourse Supporters’ Club Only €90 To Join Beginners’ Chase.
Ridden by Donagh Meyler for Eoin Griffin, the promising six-year-old was making a challenge at the second-last when favourite and long-time leader Henn See took a tumble. Left in front at that stage, Jody Ted pulled away from that point to win by a wide margin.