Vastonea swoops late for Halpin to regain 'Mile' crown
It has been a very lucky race for us, beams delighted trainer Prendergast
Vastonea found the form that carried him to Topaz Mile glory in 2012 when swooping late for Gary Halpin last night to thwart long-time leader Piri Wango and reclaim the €115,000 Galway feature.
Having finished third in the race 12 months ago, the grey six-year-old was exploiting a drop in the ratings to the same mark that he won off two years ago.
More than that, the 12/1 shot was further embellishing Kevin Prendergast's exquisite record in the prestigious mile contest, this being the veteran Curragh handler's sixth win.
Prendergast's legendary father Paddy won the inaugural edition of an event then known as the McDonogh Handicap in 1971. The Friarstown incumbent claimed his first a year later and four wins in the past 11 years would suggest that the octogenarian is becoming more prolific with age.
"It has been a very lucky race for us," beamed Prendergast, whose well-fancied three-year-old Maskoon tired into eighth. "Vastonea was better off this year at the weights and he obviously likes it here. He didn't mind the fast ground whereas Maskoon found it too quick."
Vastonea was emulating Noel Meade's Galway specialist Pinch Hitter (1981-82) by winning the race twice. He sported the colours of Prendergast's wife Lesley, although Norman Ormiston, whose silks he wore two years ago, is also still a shareholder.
The win was Halpin's sixth this month and it was a fine example of why the 20-year-old 7lb claimer from Blanchardstown is becoming increasingly prolific.
He swung wide to wind up his challenge in the clear as they hit for home, a decision that proved critical, with Pat Smullen enduring a less charmed passage on the inside aboard Defining Year.
Smullen eventually motored home in fourth in a thrilling spectacle, as Ger Lyons' Piri Wango held on gallantly for second, with Baraweez third.
Halpin, though, had judged it to a nicety on Vastonea.
"It's great to win a big race like this, especially for the boss," he said afterwards.
"The old horse is as genuine as they come. He knows his way round here better than I do. I was flat out the whole way and I was never happy until the dip.
He took me from there up the straight –– he loves battling."
Smullen, Dermot Weld and Dr Ronan Lambe gained compensation for Defining Year's defeat when the injury-prone Hidden Universe hung on in the two-mile handicap.
"He has had lots of problems," Weld said of the 9/4 favourite, which hadn't won in four outings since his 2011 November Handicap coup. "He could be a Cesarewitch horse."
Weld and Smullen doubled up with Antique Platinum, which survived a stewards' inquiry after leaning all over its rivals as it laboured home at 2/5.
Jacksonslady (3/1) completed an opening race brace for JP McManus with a brave effort in the Latin Quarter Chase under Barry Geraghty, who was excellent in putting his mount's head in front 50 yards from the line before repelling the late thrust of Cailin Annamh by a head in a driving finish.
It was a first win at the festival for Philip Dempsey, who has recently moved to a new yard in Carbury, Co Kildare.
"She is a tough mare," he said of the 2013 Galway Plate third. "She is second reserve in the Plate, so we'll see what happens. Barry was brilliant on her there."
Aidan O'Brien had briefly deposed Weld from top spot in the trainers' table when McManus' Shield toughed it out in the novices' hurdle to back up his Killarney win.
Robbie Power got the required response from the 15/8 favourite when he asked him to repel the challenge of Queen Alphabet.
"Robbie said he was a bit lazy," the Ballydoyle handler reported of his second winner. "He got a great run through and gave him a peach of a ride. Novice chasing will probably be on the agenda."
Coolmore's Legatissimo left behind her moderate debut effort to plunder the juvenile maiden for David Wachman and Wayne Lordan at 12/1, while Gary Carroll sprung a bigger shock when driving 25/1 shot Surreal to victory for Carlow-based Jane Foley in the seven-furlong handicap.
Year-on-year attendance was up 5pc for a second night in a row to 19,156.