Although for much of the final mile it looked an unlikely success, Tin Soldier followed up his Fairyhouse success with a hard-fought victory in the Grade 3 At The Races Michael Purcell Memorial Novice Hurdle on a wintry afternoon in Thurles.
Having left it late to prevail over three miles on his Irish debut, Ruby Walsh’s decision to jump off in front over this half-mile shorter trip looked a wise move. But, he was unable to hold that position passing the stands for the first time, and was back in fifth and under strong pressure leaving the backstretch for the final time.
However, stamina is clearly his strongest suit and so well did he respond to pressure he was able to switch late on and still get up to beat the well-backed Moulin A Vent, with Champagne Classic in third.
Said winning trainer Willie Mullins: “He’s a horse that never shows me much at home, but he’s obviously got more in the locker than he lets on to have. But I like horses that improve unexpectedly, and he’s one of those.
“Two and a half miles is as short as he wants, and he seems to go on that ground but probably wants it better. I’ll probably keep him at home, and look for a staying novice hurdle.”
The return to chasing helped Westerner Point reverse recent hurdling form with Realt Mor in the opening Thurles Racecourse Supporters’ Club Rated Chase, the game eight-year-old making all and finding plenty to fend off Shadow Catcher, with favourite Realt Mor a well-beaten third.
Said winning trainer Eoghan O’Grady, Mallow: “He’s been a great horse for us, and if we could get one more like that we’d be sorted. As long as the ground stays heavy we’ll keep going with him. There’s a race in Gowran on March 11, and a race in Leopardstown on March 5, so he’ll go for one of those next.”
Seldom come races more dramatic than the seven-runner Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares’ Novice Chase won by 50-1 chance Carrigeen Acebo, trained by Richard Lalor.
Favourite Daisy’s Gift departed early, bringing down Presenting Mahler, as Twiss’s Hill made the running. The latter was still in front turning for home and was left with a seemingly unassailable lead when the tracking Girly Girl fell at the second-last.
Virtually alone going down the to the last, Twiss’s Hill (matched at 1.02 on Betfair) ran down the fence, made a mistake, and gave her rider no chance.
That left Misty Lady in front but there was time for further drama as Carrigeen Acebo’s, ridden by Liz Lalor, picked up well to claw back the new leader in the shadow of the post. In doing so he rewarded those who backed him at 1000 on the machine.
Having been in the first three in seven of his eight outings inside the rails, point to point winner Call The Taxie gained due reward under a strong ride from Davy Russell in the Killinan Maiden Hurdle. A scopey individual, who could make great progress over fences in time, his trainer, Ellmarie Holden, said: “It’s brilliant to win with him. He loved the ground, he had his trip, and Davy gave him a super ride. We have no plans for him now, but he might get a break, after his win.
“In fairness to him, he always ran his race, he was always in the money. I’d say we will go chasing with him next season. He’s a big chasing type, and that’s the way to go with him.”
Gordon Elliott was keen to deflect the praise onto rider Lisa O’Neill following Sutton Manor’s victory in the Littleton Handicap Hurdle, over three miles. The 9-2 chance has twice qualified for the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham, but is unlikely to get in and will, instead, likely stay at home.
Said Elliott: “Lisa’s a great girl, she gave him a great ride. She’s only small but she’s a great bit of stuff, and an important part of the team, so it’s great to give her a winner. If the horse sneaks in at the bottom in the Pertemps he might go there, otherwise he’ll stay at home.”
Promising in younger days, 10-year-old former point to point winner Clounts Meadows earned a first track success when taking the Lady Riders’ Handicap Hurdle under Jane Walton.
“He was a horse that was promising enough, but got an injury at the last at Clonmel, and was off a year and a half, and struggled to find his form,” said winning trainer Mick Winters. “We worked him harder all the week, and it would either kill him or cure him. He probably has a little bit of class, and was probably entitled to win a race.
“Jane is working in Duhallow, in Damian Murphy’s yard. We’re probably showing our age now, but we gave Damian his first ride in a point to point. He has a nice yard going for him, with young horses, and Jane is best friends with Damian’s girlfriend, Jane Foley.”
Winters was keen to add that there will be a fundraiser for injured rider Stella McGrath, in Donoghue’s Pub, in Knockraha, on March 10.
“Every farrier from Fermoy to Ballydesmond is putting up two sets of shoes – that’s just a show of the crowd that is behind it,” added Winters. “Paul Townend and any of the other top jockeys who can be there will be, and John Kiely and Jimmy Gordon are the guests of honour. It will be a good night out, for a good cause.”
The application of cheekpieces worked the oracle for Martello Park, who belied a market drift to take the finale for trainer Mags Mullins and jockey Patrick Mullins.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved