O'Neill on 'Point' to secure memorable National double
Lisa O'Neill created history by winning back-to-back Kerry Grand Nationals yesterday, an incredible achievement for a lady amateur, as Potters Point held on grimly in a one-two for Michael O'Leary at Listowel.
With neither Bryan Cooper nor Jack Kennedy having a ride in the race, it was O'Leary who nevertheless advised trainer Gordon Elliott to give Dubliner O'Neill the spin on the winner, which benefited from the same owner's Arkwrisht making some costly mistakes.
That resulted in Andrew Ring surrendering an iron and having to steer his steed without full force after the second-last, which may well have been the difference in winning and losing, half-a-length separating the Gigginstown pair (both 8/1) at the wire.
Bay Of Freedom travelled best but just failed to see it out under Kevin Sexton, ahead of fourth-placed Viva Steve, in an event few got into.
For O'Neill, this was a reward for hard work, talent and a positive style of riding. "Gordon said to sit mid-division and the horse basically just carried me into the race. In fact, I probably hit the front too soon, at the second-last, but he winged it and it was just a case of, 'Right, away you go so!'
"Without Gordon, I would not be where I am today, and when Michael and Eddie (O'Leary) put me on Wrath Of Titans for Gordon last year, I suppose the whole thing just went from there," added O'Neill, who rode Tiger Roll to win at the Cheltenham Festival in March for the same connections.
For Arkwrisht's trainer Joseph O'Brien, it was a case of so near but so far in his bid to snare another big summer handicap after the Galway Hurdle win of Tigris River. Elliott, meanwhile, thinks he may have a National horse on his hands in the form of the winner.
He said: "I was very worried about the ground but Lisa is plucky as hell and gave him a great ride. In fairness to the horse he showed plenty guts and pulled it out after the last. He had a wind operation before he won in Fairyhouse (in April) and it looks like it made the difference. He could be a National horse."
It will not have been lost on Willie Mullins that he trained both Potters Point and Arkwrisht before a split with O'Leary but the champion Jumps trainer nevertheless enjoyed a double, Riven Light (11/8f) making it three wins from four since reverting to the level this summer in the Listed race.
Kevin Manning was teaming up in victory with Mullins for the first time and said: "Again he was very smart and did it very well." Mullins hailed Manning for his "strength and confidence".
Fabulous Saga took the novice hurdle for Mullins at 8/13, while Davy Russell provided Charles Byrnes with another winner in 1/2 Wonder Laish in the maiden hurdle.