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Hard work is paying off


Dunguib with Brian O'Connell returns to the track after a long layoff in the Limestone Lad Hurdle (Grade 3) Naas Photo: Patrick McCann

Dunguib with Brian O'Connell returns to the track after a long layoff in the Limestone Lad Hurdle (Grade 3) Naas Photo: Patrick McCann

Dunguib with Brian O'Connell returns to the track after a long layoff in the Limestone Lad Hurdle (Grade 3) Naas Photo: Patrick McCann

"NOW after all your years of hard work at least we are back," was one of the comments made by Lily Lawlor in the immediate aftermath of Dunguib making a very pleasing return at Naas at the weekend.

Hartnett is a part owner of the 11-year-old and she was speaking to the horse's trainer, Philip Fenton, who modestly, but quite correctly, replied: "No, it was all of us. We all stood by him." Dunguib was, at one stage in his career, the horse that money couldn't buy. Many major offers were rumoured to have been placed in front of Lawlor and her joint owner, Dan Hartnett.

While the offers were fairytale stuff, so too was the opportunity to own a horse like Dunguib and they opted to turn all offers away.

It has been a rocky road since he was a Grade One bumper and hurdle winner and the €3,000 won by the horse on Saturday would have been whittled down to a little more than €2,000 by the time it ended up in the owners' accounts, which is a far cry from what it has cost connections to nurse this horse back to competitive action.

But in a time when Cheltenham is the hot topic and a perception is evolving that big owners are splashing the cash to eliminate the chance of the 'small man' to enjoy big days in racing, it was refreshing to capture such a personal side to the game.

There was a genuine delight that Dunguib had returned to competitive action after nearly three years off the track and who knows what he will be able to go on to win in the future, but Hartnett and Lawlor's pride and joy was back and that was the main thing.

What a week it had been for Philip Fenton. What a few months it had been. Two horses, in Dunguib and also Last Instalment, both returned from lengthy injuries and both finished third.

Fenton is now looking towards the next step for the pair after a promising return.

Speaking yesterday, Fenton gave a positive bulletin: "Dunguib is 100 per cent sound, thankfully. After everything he has gone through it's very important to take things one step at a time."

Immediately after the race Fenton described his comeback run as "lovely" and admitted that, like Last Instalment, the horse would have been undercooked for the return.

"I can't say that we had a whole lot done – lots and lots of slow work alright – but that was a lovely run and I was expecting him to get tired a little bit sooner."

The Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran Park next month, which was the race that provided Dunguib with his last victory back in 2011, was pinpointed as a possible target for him again this time around.

"There's not a great deal for him, but I think going to Gowran makes sense and we'll see after that where the next port of call is. I think there's a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. It's hard to make plans but thank God they look fine."

Last Instalment was third in Kinloch Brae at Thurles on Thursday when momentarily looking like he might even make a dream comeback to win and although Gowran is a possibility for him on the same day, the Irish Hennessy is also a realistic target.

"His legs are like ice cubes thank God," Fenton said. "He is in good shape and came out of Thursday's race well. The Red Mills Chase or the Hennessy are possible targets for him."

Horses are backed, they are sold and people can get very rich and very poor from them, but at the back of it all those who own, train and look after them every day have a real affection for the horses that give us so much entertainment and seeing those horses back in action was like having another winner for both connections of Dunguib and Last Instalment. It would now only be fitting Philip Fenton if he can guide both back to the winners enclosure in the near future.