The red-hot form of Gordon Elliott continued as the inaugural two-leg Navan Racing Festival got under way today, the trainer making the short return journey to Cullentra House with three winners, two ridden by Jack Kennedy, but the pair had to settle for the bridesmaid’s role to Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore in both the feature Grade 2 contests, however.
Bob Olinger (15/8) battled to a length victory over Zanahiyr in the Railway Bar Lismullen Hurdle in what was a sparkling return to form for the dual Cheltenham Festival winner, who had lost his way last year after an aborted chasing career and then finishing second in this contest 12 months ago.
That success also continued the winning run of Brian Acheson’s Robcour ownership team following recent high-class victors Gerri Colombe, Irish Point and Gentlemansgame.
The ultra-consistent Captain Guinness (3/1) would go on to take the honours in the Bar One Racing Fortria Chases for the second year in a row, recording a very smooth seven-length triumph over Riviere D’etel.
In other news, quadruple Grade 1 winner Facile Vega (8/15) took the spoils in one of the most competitive beginners’ chases you’re ever likely to see, the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners’ Chase, scoring with ease for Paul Townend, Willie Mullins and the Hammer & Trowel Syndicate in whose colours the winners’ dam, Quevega memorably ran. Inthepocket, St Felicien, Spillane’s Tower and Dreal Deal all ran noteworthy races in behind.
This was also the day in which history-making jockey, Denis O’Regan announced that he was drawing the curtain on a stellar career in the saddle.
There was barely a chance to take a breath.
It was Bob Olinger’s gritty success that had most people talking, as he went one better than last year in a thriller. The defending champion, Home By The Lee and JJ Slevin took them along at a sedate enough pace but as they approached the finishing straight for the last time, it was clear that this would be between Bob Olinger and 5/4 favourite Zanahiyr.
The eye was drawn to Blackmore travelling powerfully in the black, pink and white livery but for a split-second after clearing the last, it looked like Bob Olinger would not see his effort through, as occurred when seemingly outstayed by Home By The Lee 12 months ago.
But as Blackmore settled into the drive position, the son of Sholokhov really knuckled down and de Bromhead was understandably delighted afterwards.
“I was pretty nervous throughout,” the Knockeen Stables boss admitted. “When you see what he’s doing at home and we weren’t replicating it on the track, it’s lovely to see him go and do something nice. He looks back to his old self there today. Rachael was brilliant on him. I was a little bit nervous after he jumped the last but in fairness, Zanahiyr was entitled to pick up as well but our lad picked up really well.
“A lot of work’s gone into him. There’s a big team, and a lot of people to thank but someone that stands out is Robert Power. He took him after Naas last (January) and he has done a huge amount of work, he and his sister (international eventer Esib). A lot of credit has to go to them, through the summer into the early autumn. He came down to us looking a picture.
“There’s a lot of other people as well. Davy Roche rides him most days, all our team at home, but in fairness to Robbie, he sent him down to us looking a million dollars.”
De Bromhead was reluctant to commit to future targets and didn’t even rule out a return to the larger obstacles, insisting that they had to get this test out of the way before even considering what might happen in the coming months.
“We all wanted to see him, not even win, but just finish out the race and hit the line. Now we can start making more plans. There’s always plenty of debates around him but we’ll all sit down and see where we’ll go next. But he shows so much pace, at home and on the track. I think all options are open. Today was the day we were all focusing on.”
Dysart Dynamo was sent off 4/5 favourite in the Fortria but never appeared to travel with his customary zest and faded disappointingly to be third. Once more, Blackmore looked the happiest all the way around and she only needed to release an inch of rein for Declan Landy’s admirable Captain Guinness to cruise to the lead and a fourth graded chase was added to the eight-year-old’s CV with seven lengths to spare.
A trip to Sandown may well be in the offing now.
“He jumped brilliant,” de Bromhead stated. “I thought that was one of his best performances that I’ve seen for a while. I loved the way he picked up to the line. At every fence he went in four behind and landed two behind, he was so good. I entered him in the Tingle Creek and I’ll speak to Declan and see.”
Elliott had plenty of consolation though, taking the opening three contests and saddling the first two in the Grade 3 Bar One Racing For Auction Novice Hurdle. Dee Capo went off the 11/8 favourite but gave up a lot of ground throughout by jumping to the right before looming up as one of four horses jumping the penultimate hurdle. What’s Up Darling (15/8) was well supported and appeared to have put it to bed at the last before taking the flight out by the roots. The Gigginstown House Stud charge found plenty for Sam Ewing though, once the rider took time to get him balanced first, getting up by a neck.
“He's a quick horse,” Elliott declared of the winner. “He probably got racing a bit early but he won so it's great. The other horse ran a serious race. Jack said he tried to hang off the track on the far side. He probably gave away a lot of lengths. Jack said he thought he was going to pull him up, but when he straightened out he sprinted again.”
Stellar Story, also owned by Gigginstown, got Elliott and Kennedy off the mark when creating a good impression by digging deep to land the opening Kilberry Pub & Kitchen Maiden Hurdle over two and a half miles, having been heavily backed into 4/7 favouritism, with Largy Hill staying on from way back to be a four-and-three-quarter-length second. A horse with very good bumper form, this could be one to follow through the year in stronger run contests.
Fortunedefortunata brought up the double for Elliott and Kennedy, returning at 100/30 favourite to deliver for the Breakaway Syndicate made of former schoolmates of Elliott’s by staying on strongly on the heavy ground for a third win from just eight starts in the Hotel Park St Johann in Tirol Austria Handicap Hurdle.
The Eddie and Patrick Harty-trained Harvard Guy (7/1) justified some late market support to register a first career success in the Lisadell Equine Hospital Handicap Hurdle for trainers Eddie and Patrick Harty, jockey Mark Walsh and owner JP McManus.
And the racing concluded with a pulsating finish to the bumper, the Bar One Racing Guaranteed Overnight Prices Flat Race, another in-form trainer Gavin Cromwell getting on the board as Alymer Stud’s point-to-point winner Springt De La Mare and Declan Lavery, just held off the rallying My Trump Card, to deny Elliott a four-timer.
Meanwhile, O’Regan announced his retirement after riding the Cian Collins-trained Solly Attwell in the opener. Fittingly, he was pulling the curtain down on his career at a venue where his wife Louise works and also in attendance were his sons, Thomas and Charles.
It was on another horse of Collins’, Fiveonefive, that O’Regan made history 12 days ago by becoming the only jockey to ride a winner at every active jumps’ track in Ireland and Britain, ticking the final box at Hereford.
The 41-year-old from East Cork crossed the 800-winner mark last year, and his career tally includes seven Grade 1s, four Cheltenham Festival triumphs - the Stayers’ Hurdle on Inglis Drever and Arkle Chase on Tidal Bay from his time with Howard Johnson among them – a Galway Plate success on Ballybrit standing dish Ansar for Dermot Weld in 2005, as well as scoring at Warrnambool in Australia.
“I’m delighted with the decision,” said O’Regan afterwards. “It was a huge effort to get back for Hereford after such a long stint off (with a back injury) and I’m 41 and have had a fair few falls.
“I went to Gowran (Park) last Saturday and I knew then after that. I knew going home that was it and I had to stop now. You need goals and when Hereford was done, it’s hard to find another one – unless you’ve got a good horse, and I don’t have six or seven Grade 1 horses, so I thought it was a good time.
“(Navan) is the local track for me here (now), I’ve been very lucky here, my wife and my kids are here. There’s a lot of support and I wanted to go out on one of Cian’s. It didn’t have to be a winner and I’m delighted with that.”
Elliott, whose first ever runner at Cheltenham was ridden by O’Regan, hailed the departing pilot.
“He’s a brilliant chap and a lovely fella. What a horseman. Horses jumped for him, travelled. He was kind on horses, a brilliant horseman. I hope he’s a happy retirement.”
The action on day two of the Navan Racing Festival tomorrow gets under way at 11.45am with the Bar One Racing Troytown Chase and Grade 3 John Lynch Carpets & Flooring Monksfield Novice Hurdle the features of an eight-race card.