Pittoni bounced back to winning form when justifying favouritism in the Ballsbridge Hurdle at Leopardstown yesterday, initiating a double for Barry Geraghty.
Sent into the lead at the fourth, Pitoni was never in danger and kept going well to beat Won In The Dark by two lengths, with Oilily a close third. The winner’s pursuers having been involved in a barging match turning for home.
The Charles Byrnes-trained winner, apparently very lame, was quickly dismounted by Geraghty.
Byrnes later reported to winning owner Paddy Wilmot: “Barry said he was quite lame pulling up. He might have hit a nerve and is quite stiff. We’ll get him checked-out in the morning. Hopefully, he’ll be fine.”
Andrew Leigh, rider of third-placed Oilily was subsequently suspended for four racedays for careless riding following the incident turning for home in which he appeared to bounce off runner-up Won In The Dark on her inside.
Barry Geraghty completed his double when Slieveardagh forged clear on the run-in to beat Donnas Palm by five lengths in the Irish Stallion Farms Novice Chase.
The eight-year-old’s jumping was sketchy at times and he was squeezed for room briefly on the home turn. But, produced on the outside to tackle Donnas Palm and longshot Imperial Shabra at the last, he soon asserted his superiority.
Winning trainer Edward O’Grady admitted: “It wasn’t a smooth performance, not straight-forward, but he won,” before adding “On ratings, I shouldn’t have run him against the second horse. But I felt he had a hard race at Navan the last day and this horse has a preference for going left-handed.
“I don’t know where to go with him. He’s in the Henderson at Cheltenham, but is unlikely to travel. Fairyhouse and Punchestown are coming up and we’ll have to look at all the options.”
Jessica Harrington’s Jezki, successful on his debut over course and distance in January, retained his unbeaten record when outpointing well-touted newcomer and stable-companion The Big Easy in the Killiney Pro-Am Flat Race.
Jezki was cut to 14/1 (from 20) by Ladbrokes and Stan James for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham on the strength of this performance, when he quickened past Old Pride early in the straight and stayed on strongly to score by two lengths from his promising stable-mate.
Jessica Harrington declared: “I’m delighted with both horses. Jezki should learn a bit more from today’s race and will be helped when he gets a stronger pace. There’s a possibility he’ll go to Cheltenham - we’ll decide later in the week - as he didn’t have a hard race today.
“The second horse ran a brilliant race. He can only improve and we might keep him for the four-year-old bumper in Punchestown.”
The Bill Harney-trained mare Leanne swooped late under Bryan Cooper to foil front-running Head Waiter in the Carrickmines Handicap Chase, scoring by a half-length with favourite Colbert Station two lengths away third.
Harney reported “I didn’t have a bob on her because I was a bit worried about the ground. But she’s a grand mare. Bryan gave her a great ride - he was adamant that he’d drop her in and take his time.
“She’s entered for the handicap chase (JLT Specialty Handicap Chase) on the Tuesday at Cheltenham. We’ll wait until later in the week before we decide whether to travel.”
The opening Irish Stallion Farms Maiden Hurdle went to the John Murphy-trained Sheer Genius which got the better of the Ruby Walsh-ridden favourite Lord Gale by two and a quarter lengths.
The seven-year-old Norwich gelding, reverting to maiden company after a few creditable efforts in handicaps, was a first winner for George Murphy (18), son of the winning trainer, who commented: “I’m delighted. It’s great for George. He’s a tall lad, but very dedicated. He did the Leaving Cert’ last year and spend some time in Dubai and Ballydoyle.
“This horse has plenty of experience and deserved to get his head I front. We’ll see what the handicapper does before deciding whether hell go for a ‘novice’ or go back handicapping. He’s a Norwich and appreciated the better ground.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved