Stonemaster helps make Russell's day
Stonemaster was the centrepiece of a brilliant Davy Russell treble as he capitalised on a last-flight fall by Psycho to open his account for the season in yesterday's Ballsbridge Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Both Stonemaster and the patiently ridden Psycho were about to challenge long-time leader Made In Taipan when Tony Martin's runner came to grief.
That left Dessie Hughes' charge, carrying the colours of Gigginstown House Stud, to pounce in the hands of Russell and overtake Made In Taipan to score by two lengths, with Catch Me a never-dangerous third, 10 lengths behind.
"It's nice to win with him as it's very hard for second-season hurdlers like him. That was a good performance carrying his penalty," Hughes said of his 4/1 winner.
"His options are limited between now and Punchestown as, apart from handicaps, there is only one race for him -- that being a two-mile-six conditions hurdle at Cork. The idea was not to be too hard on him this season and he will be a proper horse over fences next season."
The in-form Russell and Gigginstown combination were completing a quick double, having taken the opening Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden Hurdle with the Paul Nolan-trained Westmeath, which won by four lengths from Glenlo Abbey.
Next stop is the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, for which the six-year-old is 20/1 with Victor Chandler. "It isn't the ideal preparation for Cheltenham, but he'll go there now," said Nolan. "He hurt his back when disappointing at Ballinrobe and he wasn't right for a while afterwards. He's clearly right again and he jumped a bus at the first (he jumped it so well). He is probably better going this way around (left-handed) as well."
Pittoni completed the near 97/1 Russell hat-trick in the two-mile handicap hurdle. The well-bred son of Peintre Celebre and Key Change was strongly fancied to bounce back from a disappointing effort on the Flat in the November Handicap on his last run and he did so in style from Cass Bligh.
A winner here in Paddy Wilmott's silks, Charles Byrnes said of his charge: "He did it well. He wants real soft ground -- that's the key to him. He is not going to Cheltenham, the ground wouldn't be soft enough for him. He is more likely to go for another handicap before the end of the season."
Rank outsider Gentle Alice (10/1) overturned better-fancied rivals in a six-strong affair for the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Novice Chase.
Russell -- seeking a four-timer -- set out to make all on Conor O'Dwyer's well-supported Uncle Tom Cobley. Having jumped well, Russell's mount was still in front at the last but was collared on the run-in as Paul Townend produced the Donie Murphy-trained mare with a well-timed run that resulted in a three-quarters-of-a-length verdict. Coscorrig grabbed second place from Uncle Tom Cobley.
The evens favourite Osirixamix was a second big disappointment for Psycho's trainer Tony Martin and was pulled up when well beaten before the final fence.
"I'm thrilled and she will go for the Dawn Run in two weeks' time at Limerick," said winning trainer Murphy.
Carrigmartin (9/1) and Rahan De Marcigny gave owner JP McManus a one-two when fighting out a thrilling finish to the Carrickmines Handicap Chase. The former came out on top for jockey Niall Madden and trainer Eddie Harty by a head as the pair pulled away from the others from the last.
There was a surprise in the novice handicap hurdle when the John Morrison-trained Ghareer proved up to the task to gain his first win since scoring at Saint-Cloud in May 2007.
Paddy Mangan's mount stayed on well to hold off the fast-finishing Ephorus -- ridden by the in-form Russell -- with Vivaldi a head away in third.
Waaheb had to work a small bit harder than expected to justify his short price of 4/9 by holding off debutant Jenari in the Killiney (Pro/Am) INH Flat Race. Robbie McNamara dictated the pace on Dermot Weld's course-and-distance winner and had all his rivals beaten off except for Jessica Harrington's runner.
Jenari briefly looked like causing an upset but Waaheb came readily back on the bridle inside the final furlong to win by a cosy length and a half.
"That was a very good performance giving 14lbs to the runner-up, which looks like a very nice horse," Weld reflected afterwards as he welcomed in the son of Elusive Quality.
"The plan was to hold him up and ride him for pace but Robbie wisely did the right thing by going on. They pulled a long way clear of the third too (nine lengths back to Streets Of Newyork).
"He may go for the McManus bumper at Limerick next and then he might go to Punchestown. He is a big, weak horse but he's all class. He is a super leaper, he jumps like a stag and he could have a huge future over jumps."