Now Or Never had young trainer Michael O’Callaghan dreaming big after she ran out a most impressive winner of the Topaz Fillies’ Maiden, last night at Galway.
In what looked a red-hot contest, the daughter of Bushranger made light of the task in the style of a filly who can uphold the tradition of the race, won last year by subsequent Classic winner Legatissimo.
Sent to the front shortly after leaving stalls, by Emmet McNamara, she had the perfect pitch, on the rails, and held a narrow advantage until asked to quicken up two furlongs out. The response was striking, as she stretched away to win emphatically and not fully extended, with the favourite in second.
O’Callaghan said: “We always thought a lot of her. She has a lot of big entries, which is unusual for one of mine, as I usually miss all the early-closers. But I didn’t miss them with her: She’s in the Moyglare, the Debutante - all those nice races.
“You couldn’t have hoped for it to go any better. She jumped smart, travelled well, has a lot of pace, and obviously stays the seven furlongs well here. A mile would be no problem, but she has the pace for six.
“She was plenty green enough (in the straight), she looked at the stand, and took a while to change her legs at the bend.
“But this is a very nice filly,” he emphasised. “She appreciated the bit of juice in the ground because she’s a big filly, and anything she does this year is a bonus.”
Another up-and-coming handler, Matthew Smith, sent out his first winner at the Festival when Empresario made all to land the Latin Quarter Beginners’ Chase.
Clear from an early stage, under Mark Enright, he looked in trouble when the field closed on the turn into the homestraight. But, much to his credit, he fended off a six-pronged challenge to beat the well-backed Guitar Pete by a couple of lengths.
“I’ve had a few runners here, but this was my first winner, and it’s just sinking in,” said Smith, who trains a small string in Kilmessan, Co Meath.
“The experience of his last couple of chases stood to him, and his jumping was brilliant. He’s entered up in a handicap chase later in the week, and we’ll see how he comes out of this before deciding whether or not to take his chance.”
The feature on the night was the Topaz Mile and Hint Of A Tint belied a long absence to land the €72,000-to-the-winner handicap.
Runner-up in a 1000 Guineas Trial in her younger days, and a close sixth in this race in 2014, she returned off a significantly lower mark and made it count. Patiently ridden by Wayne Lordan, she was brought to challenge in the straight, and edged ahead late to beat English challenger Baraweez.
Winning trainer David Wachman said: “She was tough and genuine. She was a good two-year-old and three-year-old, but then lost her way a bit. We thought about aiming her for this at the start of the year, and she’s best fresh, so that was her first start of the season.”
Day two had begun just as the opening day had, with a victory for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh. This time Long Dog was the horse in question, and he gave supporters a fright before justifying odds-on favouritism quite readily.
Always close to the pace, he showed vast improvement in the jumping department from his debut but one mistake, at the second last, could have proved very costly. The 1-2 chance reached for the hurdle and, having looked set to take over in front, conceded ground to long-time leader Three Stars.
However, he was quickly back on an even keel, took over in the straight, and pulled clear to win decisively.
Walsh said: “It was a good even gallop all the way. My horse jumped really well until I got a bit brave on him at the second-last, and probably asked him for a jump that was a bit big. I’d say he will improve when he goes up in trip, and is a real stayer.”
After the victory of Romiac on Monday evening, trainer Sheila Lavery, based in Summerhill, Co Meath, secured wins on consecutive days when Ibergman made the breakthrough in the Caulfieldindustrial Maiden. In a strongly run race, the filly was perfectly positioned off the pace, and arrived late under Ronan Whelan to overhaul B Cosmos, with a length to spare.
Beau Satchel, who was successful at this meeting last year, followed up with a dramatic last-gasp victory in the Caulfield Industrial Athlone Handicap. The Ado McGuinness-trained five-year-old had plenty of work still to do as they turned for home, but he responded to a strong ride from Gary Halpin to get up in the final strides for a head victory over the well-backed Cairdiuil.
To close the night’s action, the Harry Rogers-trained Benkei landed quite a significant gamble in the two-mile handicap.
Available at 8-1 in the morning but sent off 9-2, he was ridden close to the pace by Kanturk jockey Connor King. After moving to the front in the dip, the Jerry Nolan-owned gelding responded well to his rider’s urgings to see off the challenge of Crystal Pearl.
“It’s job done,” said Rogers. “He was bought to win here.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved