The remarkably tough Give Her Bach, having her eighteenth outing since late March, carried top weight to victory in the Waterford & Tramore Racecourse 2015 Special Recognition Award Handicap Hurdle thanks to a fine ride from 5lb claimer Pierce Gallagher.
Ridden near the pace, as is her preference, the six-year-old moved to challenge four out, and was in front after the third-last. She looked in trouble as heavily backed Kennedys Mor poked his nose in front before the next, but battled back bravely to lead going to the last.
The leader met the final flight all wrong, opening the door for the challengers, but Gallagher recovered very quickly and galvanised his mount to beat Kennedys Mor by half a length.
“She has run 18 times since the end of March and only three times out of the money,” said Doneraile trainer Paddy Cronin. “People think I’m mad running her so often, but she eats up when she goes home, would be in fierce form, and so when the ground is right and the races are there for her she might as well run.
“And, Pierce is never hard on her – that’s as hard as a race as she got this year. He’s great value for his claim.
“There probably won’t be much more for her this year, as the one thing she must have is good ground. There mightn’t be fast ground again until April or May but if it does hold up, she might go to the mares’ chase at Thurles in a couple of weeks’ time.”
The drama of the day came in the opening maiden hurdle, won by the John Kiely-trained Conduct Yourself, in the hands of Brian Hayes.
Never far off the pace, she was cut-off when trying to mount a challenge along the inside shortly after the second-last hurdle. However, her rider persevered and the mare, who finished third in a maiden at Tipperary on Tuesday, slipped through to lead after the last, and ran on well to beat long-time leader Vermout Fougeray by three parts of a length.
“That was overdue,” said Kiely. “She was finding it tough, but seems to have improved. She has a good constitution, and when she ate up after Tuesday’s race, I was happy to take my chance with her.”
Runner-up Vermout Fougeray was subsequently disqualified by the stewards, and rider Paul Townend handed a ten-day ban for dangerous riding, having been deemed to have caused interference shortly after jumping the second-last, a manoeuvre which forced the winner into the rails.
Philip Rothwell had, by his own admission, a 2014/15 season to forget, but the horses are back in form, and the Andrew Ring-ridden Eric The Third completed back-to-back victories with a determined display in the two-mile handicap hurdle.
“We’ve had a good start to the season, but a lot of seconds and placed horses so it’s just nice to get a winner,” said Rothwell.
“Andrew didn’t panic when Johnny (Burke) went past him, but he is quite good tactically, and I think he’s maturing and getting better.
“We had a long, hard year last year, but we’ve made a great start to this year, so hopefully it’ll keep going.”
Bandon trainer James Dullea earned a trip to the winner’s enclosure when Just Get Cracking made a successful chasing debut in the two-mile Novice Chase. Third for much of the trip, he moved up over the last few, and got a lovely leap at the last to put him in control. From there he stayed on well to beat favourite Westerner Point by a little more than two lengths.
“He jumped very well over the last circuit, which is what kept him in contention, and when he needed a good jump he got it,” said Dullea. “He was brave at the last, and Paul gave him a brilliant ride.
“I knew he was in good form coming here and that he’d improve off his last run. We put in a new all-weather gallop lately, and that’s making a difference to our horses, and it showed there. We’ll have to wait and see what the handicapper does, but I was worried it might be a bit sharp for him today, so he’ll likely step up in trip next time.”
Davy Fitzgerald’s Vic Approach ran out a very easy winner of the two-mile-six beginners’ chase, under David Mullins. The 4-1 chance travelled and jumped well throughout, and was brought through late to win readily from the staying-on Dawerann.
The biggest upset of the day came in the two-mile-six handicap chase, as 25-1 chance Eiri Na Casca, ridden by Sean Flanagan for trainer Denis Hogan, asserted late to beat Tomcoole Lad.
The Liz Doyle-trained Thinkitplanitdoit made a successful debut when racing home clear in the bumper, under Lisa O’Neill.
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