De Valira gets the nod and floors Lieutenant
RUBY WALSH got a fine tune out of a rejuvenated De Valira to deny the odds-on favourite First Lieutenant in a thrilling finish to the novice chase at Cork yesterday.
The Davy Russell-ridden Cheltenham Festival winner was 4/6 here to add to his fencing debut triumph at Tipperary, and hit the front when long-time leader Stephanie Kate crashed out at the third-last. While Mouse Morris' charge appeared to be travelling well at that point, Walsh was cruising along in his slipstream on Jimmy Morrissey's gelding, before then slipping up Russell's inside on the run to two-out.
After they jumped the last in unison, De Valira (11/2), which had finished third to Lucky William in a Grade Three at Punchestown just three days previously, nudged a length clear. However, Russell galvanised one final burst out of First Lieutenant and the pair were inseparable as they flashed by the post.
The photo-finish print subsequently revealed that De Valira, a horse that has been plagued by injury throughout his career, had prevailed by a nose. With the winner's owner Donal MacA'Bhaird hailing from nearby Glanmire, the judge's announcement was greeted with rapturous applause.
"It's great to have a winner at this man's local track," Gowran-based Morrissey said afterwards of the successful owner. "But it's a shame that Paul Townend, who did all the schooling on the horse and usually rides him, had to go to Naas for Willie Mullins. That's the way the ball bounces, though, and if the horse is sound in the morning, he could come back here for the Grade Three chase in three weeks time."
There had been more local joy earlier when Russell and Kanturk-based Mick Winters teamed up with Rebel Fitz to land the two-mile novice hurdle in comprehensive fashion. As ever, the highly-strung Rebel Fitz was awash with sweat, but his five rivals had no response once Russell set about extending his lead up the straight.
Winters subsequently credited his brother-in-law Adrian Maguire for advising him to make the running with the fast-improving six-year-old. Rebel Fitz was spring-heeled at the last flight before finishing five and a half lengths clear of Absolutlyfantastic.
"We were very happy coming to the races today," Winters admitted of his now three-time winning hurdler. "We gave the horse a few bits of work at Adrian's during the week and we put him up on him as well. He said to ride him from the front -- that meant Davy was able to put his experience to use.
"Three miles may not be ideal, but the Grade Three back here in a few weeks over that trip is an option at this stage."
The most valuable race on the card was a two-mile handicap chase worth €24,375 to the winner. Scotsirish, representing Willie Mullins and Walsh, kept half of the 10-runner field out of the handicap, and King High, the last to get in off his correct mark, took advantage of a featherweight 9st 11lb to score emphatically at 13/2.
Eoin Doyle's seven-year-old led two-out before easing five lengths clear for Shay Barry and Doyle suggested that a trip to the Open meeting at Cheltenham in November could be on the cards. He added: "He did it well, and the first-time blinkers helped him to concentrate as he idled a bit when he was second at Gowran last time."
Catch The Moment came back an even easier victor of the handicap hurdle for Mick Darcy. Returned at odds of 12/1, Denis Cullen's representative built up a long lead early on, before eventually cantering home to a seven-and-a-half-length rout.
In the maiden hurdle, young Tipperary handler Steven Ryder bagged his first winner in style when Pink Coat justified a tidy gamble. Backed from 33/1 into an SP of 16/1, the grey also made all to collect by two and a half lengths under Shane Hassett.