Galway Races: Rebel rules the roost
High drama in Hurdle as premature celebration almost costs Russell
Davy Russell returned to incredible scenes in the winners' enclosure after guiding Rebel Fitz to a nail-biting victory in the Guinness Galway Hurdle yesterday for Mick Winters' modest Kanturk stable.
In a dramatic edition of the two-mile showpiece which Ruby Walshsidelined after Drive Time fell at the fourth and brought down Lexi's Boy, Russell punched the air to celebrate a shade prematurely.
Davy Condon had brought Cause Of Causes with a wet sail and, in a misjudgment reminiscent of Luke Nolen's near blunder on Black Caviar at Royal Ascot, Russell's mount scraped home by a fast-diminishing head.
Had he been caught, it would have been a terrible injustice as Rebel Fitz had turned in a superlative performance to confirm himself the immensely exciting prospect he has looked for some time.
In the end, the post came in the nick of time to save Russell's blushes, though the red theme prevailed, nonetheless, as this was a triumph cloaked in the Rebel County's colours from head to toe.
Rebel Fitz, which travelled strongly through from the rear to lead at the last hurdle, is named after the Cork hurling legend John Fitzgibbon (who was also involved in the horse's purchase).
Youghal-born Russell is a strident Cork GAA fan and the owner, Brian Sweetnam, is from Castlemagner, a stone's throw from Winters' base.
Having watched his stable star make light of a six-pound penalty for winning the Grimes Hurdle 11 days previously, an ecstatic Winters, who was carried shoulder-high around a packed parade ring, admitted: "I thought we were second, but he held on. It feels fantastic -- a great Cork result.
"Brian's brother, Shane, just missed out on the Olympic showjumping team -- he was first sub -- so this is some consolation.
"When this horse won his bumper, I said he reminded me of Master Minded. He has always looked that bit flashy -- a touch of Jimmy Barry-Murphy down in the corner!"
Russell and Winters, whose sister Sabrina is married to former top jockey Adrian Maguire, have soldiered together since the rider's point-to-point days.
Once the euphoria calmed, the jockey cut a slightly sombre figure, keenly aware he had escaped a lynching on the well-supported 11/2 shot.
"Sometimes you learn valuable lessons through your pocket and I'm just one of the lucky guys to get away with it," he said remorsefully. "It's not something I will ever do again.
"Without getting too soppy about it, it means an awful lot to win a race like this for the people you started out with, and Galway has always been a huge part of my family's lives. My parents and my sister are here today, and there are few better places to be on a day like this."
It was the newly-crowned champion jockey's second time winning the €156,600 prize following his triumph on Farmer Brown in 2007.
Captain Cee Bee plugged on for third, with Plan A taking fourth.
The preceding novice hurdle was won in especially taking style by Tugboat for Barry Geraghty and Edward O'Grady. Geraghty muscled his way up the inner on the strong-travelling 7/2 shot approaching two-out, and proceeded to draw readily clear.
"Both trainer and jockey are very pleased with him, albeit a little surprised that he did it as well as he did," O'Grady admitted of the Thomas Barr-owned four-year-old.
Earlier, Andrew McNamara completed 126/1 double when Glibin dug deep to repel Great Oak in the Novice Chase.
McNamara enjoyed an easier time when supplying John 'Shark' Hanlon with his third winner of 2012 on Murchu (13/2) in the beginners' edition, but Glibin (16/1) had to work much harder to earn her neck verdict.
In the Mile Handicap, Sadler's Mark improved for first-time blinkers to swoop late under Niall McCullagh.
Maundy Money, Star Links, Waydownsouth and Cnocan Diva were knocking lumps out of each other when the 9/2 shot, which was backed from 11/2, came round them all to score for Meath-based Daniel Loughnane.
"I rode him for a first time in Leopardstown last time and I suggested trying blinkers," McCullagh revealed, "so it was nice that it worked out today."
Dermot Weld failed in his bid to secure Ballybrit's first Listed race when Yellow Rosebud fell a head shy of Jim Bolger's Lady Wingshot (9/2 from 11/2) in the Corrib Fillies' Stakes.
Pat Smullen, however, moved onto five for the week when Willie Mullins' Call Me Bubbles justified 5/4 favouritism in the 12-furlong handicap, while the bumper went to Michael Hourigan's Gate Please (8/1) under Derek O'Connor.
On a largely dry, but overcast day, the attendance fell by 13pc to 37,033.
Bookmakers' turnover was down 24pc to €2,091,794, with the Tote take dropping 22pc to €960,072.