It was a night of mixed luck for trainer Gordon Elliott in Ballinrobe last night as Eshtiaal bolted-up in the Audi Ballina Handicap Hurdle, compensation following the defeat of both odds-on favourite Vercingetorix and Hostile Fire in the earlier Sheridan Electric 4-y-0 Hurdle.
Having unseated Richard Johnson at the start on his last hurdle outing — in Perth — the Bryan Cooper-ridden Eshtiaal justified 11/8 favouritism (the night’s only winning favourite) in convincing style, sweeping into the lead between the last two flights before forging clear to win comfortably by nine and a half lengths from longshot Desert Roe.
“He deserved that and won well,” stated Elliott. “He’ll stay further and I hope there’s a good flat handicap in him. He’s entered in a few places later in the week and will run again quickly – he could go to Cartmel on Thursday.”
Earlier, Elliott looked on as his two runners Vercingetorix and Hostile Fire dominated the market for the Sheridan Electric Hurdle.
Paul Carberry made the running on Hostile Fire, tracked by his odds-on stable-companion and Bryan Cooper, who eased the 8/11 jolly into the lead before the straight.
But Adrian Heskin, on 16/1 shot Esta Quercus, had the more covered, soon moved alongside and, in a battle from the last flight, Heskin’s mount proved the stronger, getting home by a head.
“He battled and the other horse probably didn’t,” commented winning owner-trainer Iggy Madden.
“It was a slow-run race which probably suited our horse. He’s a hardy, little horse and we’ll see what the handicapper thinks of him. He’ll go back to the flat too.”
Produced with a well-timed challenge by Andrew Lynch, the Tom Gibney-trained The Nutcracker opened her account in the featured, 20,000 Costello McDermott 50th Anniversary Mares Handicap Hurdle, edging past I’m All You Need on the run-in before beating Supreme Vic by a length and a half.
“She was unlucky in the north the last day and we’re just getting the hang of her – you need to come late with her,” explained a delighted Gibney. “She’s settling better since she went over hurdles, but it’s all about keeping her head right. She’s the most aptly-named animal in Ireland.
“She likes that good ground but we’ll sit tight for the time-being, but she’ll go back on the flat at some stage.”
County Galway trainer Val O’Brien, who has a knack with veterans, won the Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Chase with twelve-year-old Valours Minion, ridden by Andrew Ring, which got the better of front-running Ballyfiboy.
“He loves good ground and was suited by the strong pace,” said O’Brien, who suggested that Valours Minion “might go back over hurdles” in the coming weeks.
The Mulholland Bookmakers Handicap Hurdle also produced a shock outcome as the Seamus Fahey-trained Wild Fern (Shane Butler) proved an emphatic winner, giving her owner-breeders, the Ennis family from Castletown-Geoghegan, a welcome change of luck.
“She hasn’t been easy to train, but the better ground obviously suited her and she won well tonight,” said Fahey.
“Shane (Butler) said she wouldn’t stop galloping and that she’ll definitely stay further.”
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