The sizable crowd which descended upon Powerstown Park was treated to some real drama in the closing stages of the featured Grade Two Clonmel Oil Chase, won by Alelchi Inois, who proved the first leg of a 25-1 treble for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh.
The 2-1 favourite was held-up in midfield for most of the journey but was switched out to make a move in the home straight.
By this stage, deposed morning favourite Outlander looked to have flown, and was some three clear racing down to the last, at which he took off far too early, put down before the fence, and went crashing out of the race.
That left the fast-finishing Alelchi Inois in front, and he raced clear from the back of the last to become the seventh consecutive winning favourite in the race.
“That was nice,” said Mullins. “He was probably jumping a bit slow for that type of contest, but he was safe and it paid off in the end. The rain probably hadn’t soaked into the ground, being the first chase on the track, and everything just played into his hands, I think.
“That was nearly our last race in mind for him, but we were half thinking of going the cross-country route with him, or possibly the Aintree National next year.
“After his run in Italy (finished third over three miles one furlong), we were happy he would stay. Ruby says he wants further than today’s trip, and the reason we were thinking about going cross-country is that you get better ground on the cross-country course.”
Mullins was not long in doubling up as Westerner Lady benefited from a ride the trainer described as “vintage Ruby” when getting home from Thanks For Tea in the Grade 3 EBF T A Morris Memorial Mares’ Chase.
Slow over the early fences, Walsh let her pop around and when challenged on the run-in, he asked her for a big one at the last.
The mare answered his call, and it proved the difference as she had to be driven out to score by half a length.
“She was game, but Ruby was fantastic on her,” said Mullins. “We set out to make it but when she started jumping left and wasn’t happy he just let her warm up and come in her own time. Then he just came and quickened the pace when it needed to be quickened. He was very good over the last on her — I think it was a vintage Ruby.
“I don’t know what her plan is now. She has probably done more than we expected of her, and I don’t know if we’ll go further with her now or wait until the spring. I hate stopping with them when they’re winning, so if we can find another race for her, we will.”
[timgcap=Hard Bought and Philip Enright en route to victory in the Prior Park Service Station Clonmel Handicap Chase. Picture: Healy Racing]zzzHardBoughtPhilipEnright_large.jpg[/timg]
The Mullins-Walsh treble came courtesy of Miss Me Now, who was produced after the last to collar Sanibel Island in the finale.
Odds-on favourite Vigil was still in contention when falling at the last.
“That’s a big improvement on what she had previously achieved, but we gave her a break and it clearly suited her,” said Mullins.
Noel Meade’s stable is in red-hot form, and Rathnure Rebel gave the Meath trainer more reason to celebrate as he made all to land the opening maiden hurdle under Sean Flanagan.
Backed from 8-1 in the morning, to 7-2 co-favourite, he was challenged by Sweet Shirleen as they raced to the second-last, but had plenty left as he quickened clear for an emphatic success.
“We had a few issues when we got him, and last season was a bit of a rush the whole way through,” said Meade.
“I’d say he’s a nice horse. He beat a good horse (Three Musketeers) when he won his point-to-point. He went down on all fours, got back up, ran away the whole way in the three-mile race, and still won.
“But that (winning here) is the first thing he has done right for me, so hopefully it’s onwards and upwards. I’d say three miles would suit him well, and he might go for a three-mile novice in Cork next.”
Davy’s Russell’s first day back riding in Ireland following suspension yielded a positive return, as the Youghal jockey completed a double aboard well-backed pair Veinard and Sea Light.
“It was a plan concocted in the 21 Club on Friday night at Cheltenham,” said Russell, after bringing the Gordon Elliott-trained Veinard (4-1) from off the pace to take the second race, a handicap hurdle, with a considerable amount in hand.
Sea Light (5-2) completed Russell’s 16.5-1 double when, under another confident ride, the Charles Byrnes-trained gelding led late for a smooth success.
A sustained gamble on Hard Bought, ridden by Philip Enright for Doneraile trainer John Joe Walsh, proved well founded as the 6-4 favourite (9-2 in the morning) travelled well, hit the front early in the straight and, despite a mistake at the last, held off the late charge of Bellgrove by a head.
Walsh said: “He stayed at it well but the mistake at the last nearly cost him the race. And then I’d say he’s a bit lazy, and might be better if he’s held on to.
“He didn’t get the trip in Galway, but there’s a race in Gowran over today’s trip, and he might go for that.”
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