Veteran course specialist Fit The Cove proved the toast of punters on the final day of the 2012 Galway Festival as Harry Rogers’ charge landed the Galway Shopping Centre Handicap in courageous style, providing jockey Chris Hayes with the first leg of a double and proving the only successful favourite on Family Day at Ballybrit.
Described by his trainer as “incredible”, Fit The Cove got the better of One Of Three inside the final furlong to triumph by two and a half lengths, with his stable-companion Cheval Rouge a close third.
Now a ten-year-old, Fit The Cove was registering his fifth success over course and distance in a race which he won, under Michael Kinane, way back in 2004.
A delighted Harry Rogers said: “He’s been a great servant and retains his enthusiasm for racing. He had a good run here earlier in the week and today’s race worked out perfectly for him.
“That’s his eleventh win and, if he’s okay, he’ll tog out again in Sligo on Wednesday.”
Chris Hayes completed his double, and brought his tally for the week to five when Aegean Sky, trained by Kevin Prendergast for Lady O’Reilly, earned a valuable bracket in the Sean Cleary Memorial Fillies Maiden, holding the late challenge of odds-on favourite Supernovae by a half-length.
Another man to savour double success was Martin Cullinane, from nearby Athenry, who saddled his own seven-year-old Georgie (28/1) to win the opening Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Hurdle under Conor Maxwell and then watched his Top Man Michael, which Noel Meade trains for him, win the Trappers Inn Handicap impressively in the hands of Westport-born apprentice Conor Hoban.
Georgie pounced late to foil the flattering Tribes And Banner, a hold-up horse sent to the front early on this occasion, by three-quarters of a length.
Cullinane later reflected, “Its something you dream about — having a winner at the Galway Festival. But I never thought that Georgie would be the one to do it.
“I though the ground was too fast for him. But we’re only fifteen minutes out the road and decided to let him take his chance.”
Later, Top Man Michael, close to the pace throughout, proved a facile winner of the Trappers Inn Handicap, beating Ancient Sands by four and a half lengths.
Cullinane explained: “I didn’t have a flat licence and decided to send this fellow to Noel. He seems to be improving.”
Trainer Meade confirmed that he might run Top Man Michael again in Roscommon tomorrow, in the first three-year-old hurdle of the season.
* In a bizarre Steward Enquiry, the thirteen riders who participated in the opening Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Hurdle were all banned for three racedays following a fair degree of confusion at the start.
The starter, Joe Banahan reported the riders and, having heard the evidence, the Stewards were satisfied that they had “failed to comply with the starter’s instructions”.
All thirteen were banned — Mikey Butler, Rob Jones, Keith Donoghue, Brian Cawley, Brian Hayes, Tony Kelly, Mark Enright, Adrian Heskin, Mark Bolger, Liam McKenna, Tim Carroll, Conor Maxwell and John Kerse.
* The Family Day crowd of 12,537 was up from 11,929 last year. The Bookmakers turned over €733,194, compared to €1,007,151 in 2011. The Tote handled €373,337, down from €404,300 twelve months ago.
Final figures for the seven-day Galway Festival were, with 2011 figures in brackets.
* Crowd : 135,480 (147,648).
* Tote : €4,376,628 (€5,004,779).
* Bookmakers: €8,700,318 (€11,818,890).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved