Johnny Murtagh has started 2016 in flying form and registered a 71/1 double with Russet and Maronella in Dundalk last night.
Russet provided jockey Colin Keane with his first success of the New Year, justifying on-course support (16/1 to 7/1) in the seven-furlong fillies maiden.
The daughter of Rip Van Winkle had to dig deep for Keane to get the better of Touch Of Gold by a half-length, prompting the delighted trainer to explain: “She’s very, very genuine and is improving all the time.
"She’s in the Sales in Goffs next month, but I wouldn’t mind keeping her because I think she could be half decent when she steps up to a mile and a quarter.”
Murtagh, understandably, was particularly happy after Maronella, off the course since May, landed the apprentice maiden under a cool ride by the trainer’s daughter Carline (her fifth career win) and in the colours of his wife Orla.
The winner came through with a powerful challenge on the inside to beat Wheels Of Fortune and Jimmy Kelly in convincing style, to Murtagh’s satisfaction: “She picked up an injury after Sligo and it has taken time to bring her back.
“But she has been working well and Caroline was confident about her this morning.
"I had this race in mind for a while, although it worked out a bit stronger than I expected. Caroline gave the filly a great ride – I couldn’t have done better myself.”
Colin Keane completed a double when Alnahar provided County Armagh-based Italian Natalia Lupini with her first training success in the first division of the Crowne Plaza Handicap, the Bahri gelding scooting home to slam Lifting Me Higher impressively by five and a half lengths.
Dropping in trip, the tough Jim Bolger-trained filly Ringside Humour battled tenaciously under a strong ride from Kevin Manning to land the featured attheraces.com Handicap over a mile.
Winning for the fourth time and recording her first on the polytrack, the winner battled bravely to get the better of front-running favourite Hat Alnasar before holding Brosnan by a half-length.
Bolger’s representative Ger Flynn said: “She’s been very consistent and knocking on the door, so she deserved that.
“She was dropping in trip, but was able to be handy and seemed to enjoy herself. She’s in the February Sale in Goffs.”
A major all-day gamble on Primo Uomo in the opening sprint handicap was foiled when Pat Smullen’s mount (6/4 favourite) was collared inside the final furlong by 14/1 shot Kiss The Stars, a welcome winner for apprentice Killian Leonard.
Kiss The Stars, a six-year-old mare, is trained by Tom McCourt, who admitted: “I must have been running her over the wrong trip!” before explaining: “I can’t believe it’s taken her so long to win again (her only previous success was in Cork in August 2013).
“We might look at the 0-65 here next week for her, but she’s in the February Sales.”
Up 9lb. for a runaway success over course and distance two weeks ago, the Damian English-trained Tribal Path (7/2) followed-up with another gutsy, front-running display in the seven-furlong 47-65 handicap, holding the persistent challenge of favourite Captain Midnight by a head.
English commented: “They didn’t make it easy for him tonight. But he’s tough and hardy and put his head down and battled. He’ll get a week off now and we’ll have to step him up out of this class.”
The Aidan Howard-trained Excelli (Mick Hussey) proved the only successful favourite of the night when beating Manorov readily by two and a quarter lengths in the Dundalk Winter Series Handicap.
Cape Explorer (20/1) landed the finale, the second division of the Crowne Plaza Handicap for Albert and Keith Moriarty, making most of the running and battling back well to foil top-weight Moving On Up.
*Conor Hoban (whip use on Hat Alnasar) and Padraig Beggy (careless riding on Gaoth Tire) each picked-up one day bans.
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