No Cheltenham clues, but some nice performances on a good afternoon for punters at Thurles, where Jim Dreaper continued his fine recent run, Willie Mullins picked up his obligatory winners, Eoin Griffin enjoyed an overdue change of luck, and Ballychorus brought her sequence of unfortunate falls to an end with a well-deserved victory.
Jim Dreaper’s Kayf Supreme landed odds of 2-11 in the opening Ballycahill Beginners Chase, to become the first of four winning odds-on favourites on the day. Ridden by Davy Russell, deputising for the injured Jonathan Burke, the horse was slow over the first couple of fences but warmed to his task thereafter.
After sitting in behind for the early part of the race, Russell made the decisive move at the top of the hill with more than a circuit to go. A good jump carried him between runners and to the front, and thereafter the favourite dominated.
Kansas City Chief tried to make a race of it late on, but Russell and Kayf Supreme always had his measure, and duly strolled clear for a wide-margin success.
“He had wind issues last year, and had a number of operations. We sent them back to get them done again during the summer,” said Dreaper, of the lightly raced seven-year-old. “It’s lovely to see him getting the win on his card, having been so consistent.
“If we can’t find something similar, we could go back to handicaps. He ran well on his handicap debut (runner-up to Bearly Legal at Leopardstown) but missed some fences when it mattered.”
The Mags Mullins-trained Ballychorus also justified odds-on favouritism in the four-runner mares’ novice chase. Adrian Heskin sent the favourite to the front from an early stage and the 2-5 chance, a faller at the last when in contention in the Troytown and Paddy Power Chase on her two previous starts, jumped well in the main. Market rival Emcon tried to make a race of it from the end of the back straight on the second circuit, but Heskin held his mount together over the last couple and pushed her clear for a comfortable success.
Said Mullins: “It was great to get her confidence back as they don’t always come back after a fall. We’re thinking about the four-mile chase at Cheltenham for her, and she deserves a chance at it. She should be much better on better ground.”
Garrai Phaidin earned his stripes in the Rock Of Cashel Handicap Chase. Ridden prominently in a race won by Milanesque here last month, he unseated his rider early on.
Once again ridden positively by Brian O’Connell, he jumped well, travelled best and looked to have the measure of the aforementioned Milanesque when that rival took a tumble at the second-last. Shane Ryder’s gelding was then left to race home clear of Notification.
Burgas, a beaten favourite on his only previous start for Willie Mullins, made amends with a smooth victory in the Thurles.ie Maiden Hurdle. Ridden by Bryan Cooper, he set off in front and, although 66-1 outsider Mr Antolini tried to put it up to him, the 4-6 chance pulled clear up the straight to win with plenty in hand.
“He travelled well and jumped much better than he did at Fairyhouse,” said the winning rider. “He should make into a nice chaser next term.”
The only surprise in the Cashel Maiden Hurdle was, according to winning trainer Eoin Griffin, that it took until now for the highly-regarded Road To Respect to get off the mark over obstacles. Beaten by some smart sort in three previous tries over hurdles, he returned from a six-week break in good heart. Bryan Cooper tried to settle the 8-11 shot behind the pace, but he pulled his way to the front turning away from the stands on the first circuit.
Somewhat more settled in front, he jumped quite well and had his rivals in trouble as he turned for home for the final time. Comfortably clear going to the last, he was awkward at the obstacle, and that opened the door for the chasing Inch Rise. However, the favourite picked up well to see off that rival by a length, though the winning rider received a caution for his use of the whip.
“To be honest, I didn’t think at the start of the season that I’d be standing here in February waiting for this fellow to win a maiden hurdle,” admitted Griffin. “He’s had a couple of tough races, and came up against a good one in Yorkhill (at Punchestown). He’s a nice horse for the future but still has a bit of developing to do. He’s still a bit weak behind the saddle, and has to fill out his frame.
“We’ll mind him for the rest of the season. Bryan was saying a drop back in trip would suit, as he’s a bit keen at that sort of trip. We’ll freshen him up and maybe go to Fairyhouse for the Grade 2 Novice Hurdle over two and a half miles.
“He’ll probably go on to Punchestown from there, and I’d imagine he’d appreciate the ground a bit nicer than today. He’s not a good-ground horse, but that’s very testing out there.”
Go It Alone, from the Colin Bowe stable and ridden by Mikey Fogarty, landed a nice touch in the Killinan Handicap Hurdle. Available at 20-1 in the morning but returned at 7-1, he was prominent throughout, led going best turning for home, and wasn’t unduly hard ridden to race home clear of The Grey Guy.
The action closed with an ultimately quite comfortable victory for the easy-to-back Augustin (7-4f), who completed a double for Willie Mullins. Always close to front rank, Patrick Mullins sent his mount to the front turning for home, and he pulled clear of promising newcomer Justmemyselfandi.
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