Oft has champion jockey Pat Smullen received the plaudits for his brilliance in the saddle, but his feat in getting Xsquared around Killarney and home in front in a two-mile-one handicap with a slipped saddle for more than a circuit must rank high amongst the Offaly rider’s most-extraordinary achievements.
In an otherwise unremarkable race, Smullen, riding the well-backed 7-4 favourite, performed heroics not only to remain with his mount around this sharp track but to get a tune out of him in the closing stages to hold Black Label’s finishing effort.
Fittingly, the biggest cheer of the day was reserved for the rider as he walked back into the parade ring, saddle in hand.
“Never, as long as I can remember, have I had a saddle slip as bad,” said the smiling Smullen. “He was just very strong for the first two furlongs, far too keen.
“He’s got no withers and the saddle slipped up his neck and I was out of control turning into the straight the first time.
“Luckily my colleagues let me out and let me go to the front, otherwise I was in danger of clipping heels.
“I was out of control the whole way, to be completely honest, until we got to the two-furlong marker and, from there, I just tried to sit still and try to keep the saddle in place.
“Thankfully, he had the ability to hold on.
“As they turned into the straight I was very much in fear of coming off him but, when he straightened up I realised they weren’t going to get to me. It was just one of those things.”
Winning trainer Peter Fahey joked: “I suppose I may learn how to tack-up. I thought for a minute I was going to injure the champion jockey.
“The saddle slipped up the horse’s neck but fair play to Pat. I’ve known him since we were pony racing together and he’s a good family friend, and I think this is his best year ever. He’s showing everyone what he’s really capable of.”
The winner may go to the two-mile-two novice chase on the Wednesday of Galway.
On paper, the opening Rentokil Initial Maiden, over 14 furlongs, looked nothing special, but jockey Seamie Heffernan gave a masterclass in coaxing home the hitherto frustrating Successor.
Declan McDonogh, aboard heavily backed favourite Sea Of Mystery, chose to seize control of the race passing the stands on the first circuit, whereas the eventual winner was held up in last place.
The leader held sway all the way to the home-straight and had most of his rivals in trouble as kicked some three clear.
However, Successor, who has a tendency to carry his head high, travelled noticeably well and Heffernan chose to bring him through the field, rather than around it.
Keeping his mount interested and away from too much daylight, he moved second a furlong out and picked up well to reel-in the cleverly ridden Sea Of Mystery deep inside the final furlong.
Heffernan said: “I’d say he was a little bit disappointing previously, but there’s a chance he could have been a little physically weak, and had no more to give.
“His head used to come up a bit, but I was always sure I was on the best one today. Staying might be his thing, and hopefully he’s improving.”
“She likes the Kerry air,” joked jockey Declan McDonogh after Aimhirgin Lass, owned by President Michael D Higgins, secured her second victory at the track, with a strong performance in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF fillies’ handicap.
The filly, trying 11 furlongs for the first time, really excelled at the trip as she got on top late to beat the game Ringside Humour by half a length.
“They went a really good pace, and it was a proper test. I always felt I was going to get there, but she idled a little in front,” added McDonogh.
“We weren’t sure about the trip, but the fact she got it so well opens up the opportunities for her, and she may have a future.”
Rosin Box wasn’t without her supporters prior to taking the Killarney Avenue/Munster Joinery Handicap for trainer John Murphy and jockey Colin Keane.
“We were close to pulling her out, as I thought the ground might be a bit gluey for her,” admitted Murphy.
“She got hampered at Listowel when she might otherwise have finished third. It was a modest contest today, and we’ll look for something similar next.”
Long odds-on shot Oathkeeper made light of his task in the Ladbrokes Ireland Maiden Hurdle.
The 2-9 chance, twice successful in bumpers, was delivered to lead after the last by Barry Geraghty, and he quickened clear to beat Billy De Kid with plenty to spare.
Winning trainer Joseph O’Brien said: “He is lovely horse and has always worked and jumped well at home.
“While this didn’t look the strongest of contests, it’s still a race and he will have learned plenty from it.
“He’ll go for a novice hurdle next, but Galway is just around the corner and might come too soon.”
Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins combined to take the feature Paddy Power Handicap Hurdle with Westerner Lady, who belied an absence of 269 days to take this competitive event by a wide margin.
Keen through the early part of the race, Walsh let her stride on with more than a circuit to go, and stacked them up on the home turn before quickening away late to win handsomely.
“We knew she’d stay, as she won over two-seven and three miles, and it was a good gallop all the way here,” said Walsh.
“She jumped great, really attacked her hurdles, and is one who will probably go chasing sooner rather than later. There’s a two-mile-six beginners’ chase at Tramore in mid-August, which could be her target.”
There was further success for the Walsh family when Katie produced the Patrick Kelly-trained Licklighter with a well-timed challenge to win the Meet The Roses At The Races bumper.
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