Roche's Hill on the money
ON a day when Ladbrokes announced a €1m sponsorship deal for Punchestown, they were among the bookies hit by a good old-fashioned gamble at the Kildare track.
The layers at Punchestown yesterday were left counting the cost after the Christy Roche-trained Groody Hill landed a major punt (14/1 into 9/2) in the Punchestown Annual Membership Handicap Chase.
Alan Crowe's mount was lucky to survive a first-fence blunder, but after that things went pretty smoothly for the JP McManus-owned five-year-old. He looked a winner barring mishap from before the second last and he had Ten Fires beaten when that one departed at the last.
From there, Groody Hill didn't have to fully exert himself to beat Andrea's Answer by five and a half lengths.
Ladbrokes will be hoping this coup doesn't set a trend after confirmation they will be taking over title sponsorship of the Punchestown Winter Festival, as well as extending their support of the Ladbrokes.com World Series Hurdle at the main Festival in April.
The announcement -- a massive shot in the arm for the Punchestown executive -- means that for the next three years a total of five races will carry the Ladbrokes.com title at the two-day fixture in November, including the Grade One Morgiana Hurdle.
Back on the track yesterday, Noel Meade was pleased the course passed a morning inspection as his Cross Appeal produced an accomplished round of jumping to land the beginners' chase over two and a half miles.
Imperial Shabra led the field for a long way, but could not shake off the 9/1 winner, which took up the running at the second last under Davy Condon.
It was hard work in the home straight, but Cross Appeal was always in command and came home by three and three-quarter lengths, with disappointing odds-on favourite Stonemaster snatching second place under Davy Russell after failing to get competitive.
Russell enjoyed better fortune aboard the Charlie Swan-trained Make A Track, which hung on grimly to land the two-mile maiden hurdle. Russell pushed the 5/2 chance clear before the final flight and that proved a winning move, as he just held the late surge of Reizovic.
The Margaret Mullins-trained Cairdin got the better of a thrilling duel with Sin Palo to land the staying maiden hurdle. Ruby Walsh edged ahead on Sin Palo at the final flight, but Cairdin battled back gamely for Danny Mullins to win by three-quarters of a length.
Walsh was also out of luck in the the opening beginners' chase over two miles, in which he was expected to strike on well-backed favourite Nearest The Pin.
But Tony Martin's 5/4 market leader had no answer to Days Hotel, a promising recruit trained by Henry de Bromhead, who does so well with novice chasers. Andrew Lynch went on at the third last on the 7/2 second favourite and was not hard pressed to fend off Nearest The Pin by 10 lengths.
Meanwhile, Walsh's appeal against the five-day ban he incurred under the controversial new whip rules at Aintree will be heard this day week in London. The Kildare rider will be represented at the hearing by top English lawyer Rory MacNeice, who in the past has successfully acted for Tony McCoy and Frankie Dettori.
"I was talking to Kevin Darley (Professional Jockeys Association chief executive) and Rory MacNeice and they said we should appeal, so we'll see how we get on," said Walsh.