Briar Hill, winner of the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival in March, made a successful start over hurdles when justifying 1/9 favouritism in the opening Supporters Club AGM & Table Quiz Maiden Hurdle in Wexford yesterday, continuing the superb form of champion trainer Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh.
In front from flagfall, the five-year-old Shantou gelding jumped with exuberance and enthusiasm and, pursued by Molly Connors and Rasco between the last two flights, drew clear, with the minimum of fuss, to triumph by eleven lengths.
In the absence of trainer Mullins, who arrived later, Ruby commented: “I’m delighted he won. Wexford isn’t a track that suits his strengths, but he did it well. He jumped super but was quite idle up the straight — he’s not a horse that you expect to pick up straight away. It didn’t fell as if he was going that quick, but he’s a grade 1 Cheltenham bumper winner and is deceptive.”
Mullins later indicated that the Grade 1 Navan Novice Hurdle, on December 15, is likely to be Briar Hill’s next port of call, with a step-up to two and a half miles a priority. On Sunday he also nominated the Navan race as the target for Faugheen after his smooth success in Punchestown. And they’ll hardly clash.
Royal Moll started an uneasy odds-on favourite to give Mullins and Walsh a double in the Support Wexford Racecourse Mares Novice Hurdle, but could finish only third, beaten a head and three-quarters of a length by the Gordon Elliott-trained Diyala.
Ridden by Barry Geraghty, Diyala, not a straight-forward ride, was almost four lengths clear when jumping left and making a serious mistake at the final flight. Geraghty’s saddle slipped slightly, but he kept his mount going on the ultra-short run-in to land the spoils.
Grey Monk, in the familiar Potts colours, sparked a double for Henry de Bromhead and Andrew Lynch when justifying 1/3 favouritism in the Slaney Maiden Hurdle, but only after the challenging Dave’s Stamper, within a neck of the winner, pecked badly at the last, allowing Grey Monk to take the prize by a length and a quarter.
“Andrew felt that he wants further, but I’m delighted he won,” said de Bromhead. “He got the job done and we might see what mark he gets and have one go in a handicap before he goes jumping fences. He hasn’t run since March and should improve from this.”
Wilde Sapphire completed the de Bromhead /Lynch double when scoring an emphatic, six-and-a-half-lengths win over Wolly Tom, whose rider Martin Mooney picked-up a two-day whip ban, in the Gorey Handicap Hurdle.
“It was worth a try in a handicap and it worked out,” stated the winning trainer, “Andrew said it was the first day she got a good gallop. And I’m delighted she won for the lads (the 47-member Wilde At Heart Syndicate, a Facebook Syndicate, set up by Michael O’Callaghan). She’s entered in Gowran on Saturday and might run again there.”
The Christy Roche-trained Speckled Wood is likely to go down the handicap route, according to Frank Berry, Racing Manager to owner JP McManus, following her half-length win over Leish Oscar in the mares beginners chase.
Berry said of Mark Walsh’s mount: “She was a bit unfortunate in Clonmel, but jumps well and is tough and genuine. It’s nice to get this out of the way and she’ll probably go handicapping now.”
The final two races produced popular local successes as Foritsa, ridden by Ben Dalton for New Ross-based Gordon Doyle, got the better of the flattering Dog Barrel Hill in the Enniscorthy Handicap Chase while the Lenny Whitmore-trained Loch Dara, ridden by Harley Dunne, foiled anther flatterer, Ibetellingyoualie, by a length, in the Rosslare Hunters Chase.
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