Glory for local lad Lee as McCain raider destroys Irish rivals
FEW, if any, of the Guinness Handicap Hurdle winners of recent years have treated the opposition with as much disdain as did Donald McCain's trailblazing English raider Overturn yesterday in front of another huge Ladies Day attendance of 44,418 at Ballybrit.
Locally-born Graham Lee, who hit the deck in the previous day's Tote Plate with first-fence casualty Grand Slam Hero, carried out first-time Galway visitor McCain's attacking ploy to a tee, taking the 6/1 victor into an immediate lead and proceeding to dominate throughout.
The 34-year-old from Mervue, who was deputising for McCain's injured stable jockey Jason Maguire and tasted Grand National glory at Aintree aboard Amberleigh House for McCain's famous father Ginger, was enjoying a maiden victory at his home course.
Seldom has Lee enjoyed a more clear-cut success at this level, however, than when Overturn readily shrugged off the attentions of the gambled-on favourite Dirar after two out and then maintained a relentless gallop that took them to the line well clear of last year's gallant hero Bahrain Storm.
"This is a fantastic result for our first runner in Galway. I knew this horse was in tremendous nick after his win on the Flat at Newcastle and that's why we came. He's been improving all year and is seriously good -- we may have to think now of Cheltenham in the spring," McCain Jnr enthused.
"Somehow I managed to get him beaten off a mark of 95 early on over hurdles and he's run off 145 today, so you'd have to think in terms of the Champion Hurdle and races leading up to it, though I prefer to take it one race at a time. Their owner Tim Leslie also has Peddlers Cross to consider.
"Tim's support and input has been instrumental in bringing the team to a new level and it's made a big difference. Graham Lee has won us a Grand National and it was great to get him, but it's a shame Jason Maguire, who has done a huge amount of work on the horse, is out through injury."
Described by an elated McCain as "a very uncomplicated horse", Overturn, which was purchased for £75,000 out of Walter Swinburn's stable, could possibly attempt to follow up both his Northumberland Plate win and yesterday's equally rewarding raid on the biggest Galway prize of the week at York next month.
"We will take the horse home and see about the Ebor Handicap later," was the trainer's reply when asked to nominate the Barathea gelding's next race, and Paddy Power reacted by shortening him up two points to 12/1, while Ladbrokes were only prepared to offer 8/1 and gave Overturn a 20/1 Champion Hurdle quote.
First run in 1913, the €250,000 Guinness promotion has now been won three times by English raiders.
In 1986 Peter Scudamore made the breakthrough on Ray Peacock's 4/1 chance Rushmoor, and former amateur kingpin Philip Fenton did the steering when Liam Codd's Sagaman (25/1) delighted the bookmakers in 1991.
Pat Flynn's Bahrain Storm, which was bidding to become the fifth back-to-back Guinness Hurdle winner, again showed his liking for this circuit when staying on dourly to overtake a tired Dirar for the runner-up berth and may now turn his attentions to fences.
In spite of the sorry state of the economy, Galway continued to give Irish racing a welcome boost yesterday as more than 2,000 extra people from last year thronged the enclosure and wagered close on €4.2m between the bookmakers and the Tote.