Elliott and Kennedy on the Ball in feature
Not for the first time this season, Gordon Elliott and Jack Kennedy combined to claim the day's big prize in the colours of Michael O'Leary as Ball Darc took the Dan Moore Memorial Handicap Chase at Fairyhouse yesterday.
This contest, sponsored by Bar One Racing, was run at a fierce pace given the front-running tactics of Ttebbob but Kennedy bided his time on Elliott's six-year-old, confident that the pace-setter had gone off too quick.
For a brief moment it looked as if one-time smart novice Ttebbob had slipped the field, but by the turn for home he was running on empty and Ball D'Arc and Pairofbrowneyes were left in front.
Pairofbrowneyes has been placed in numerous big races but had to settle for second best again as the 3/1 favourite powered clear after the last, winning by nine lengths. Unlucky at Leopardstown over Christmas, he was yet another big winner injured jockey Bryan Cooper had missed out on.
As for Elliott, he keeps picking up the valuable handicaps that make him such a realistic challenger for Willie Mullins' champion trainer title.
"It's a nice pot to win," observed the trainer. "Jack gave him a peach of a ride. He was a bit unlucky at Leopardstown, although I'm still not sure he'd have won. The soft ground suited him today and he could get into a nice rhythm.
"I'm not sure where he will go next, but he could go for something like the Grand Annual. He's still a novice over fences so that is an option as well."
The County Meath handler and Kennedy had earlier teamed up to land the opening mares maiden hurdle with Barra (5/4 fav) which easily saw off Mullins' Kate Appleby Shoes to be a 50th winner of the season for the emerging rider.
Elliott remarked of the Dingle native: "For a lad of only 17 to be doing what he's doing is great. Nothing fazes him, and he has his feet on the ground and is still mucking out in the yard."
Ballyoisin (evens fav) made up for a fall on his chasing debut when easily accounting for Townshend in the beginners chase over an extended two miles.
Always highly regarded by trainer Enda Bolger, the JP McManus-owned six-year-old tipped up at Fairyhouse on New Year's Day. He was sure-footed on this occasion, with Barry Geraghty always seemingly confident he had Ruby Walsh covered on Townshend and he ran out a six-length winner.
"He jumped well and I'd say he learned from the last day," said Geraghty. "He's very little experience but he picked up well from the second-last and could do no more than he did."
The two-mile maiden hurdle turned out to be a case of 'ladies first' as the female duo of trainer Ellmarie Holden and jockey Rachael Blackmore took the spoils thanks to the victory of Ex Patriot (10/1).
Having shown a decent level of form on the Flat for Ger Lyons, the three-year-old changed hands for €38,000. Everything appeared to be going well for Elliott's favourite Mengli Khan, but Ex Patriot made him look decidedly one-paced when scooting past to prevail by a length.
Holden said: "I'm absolutely thrilled with that. It's his first run for me, and he's been a pure machine at home over hurdles.
The Sean Aherne-trained Nicole's Milan came out best in a pulsating finish to the three-mile handicap hurdle. Favourite Dawn Raider had been produced with what looked a perfectly-timed challenge between the last two flights, and jumped the final obstacle in front.
But the 14/1 winner rallied in dramatic style, getting up to seize the spoils by half a length, with another length back to Returntovendor in third.
The beginners chase over two and a half miles went to the Sheila Lavery-trained Laide Back Luke (3/1) which made all in the hands of Robbie Colgan, while the bumper saw Henry de Bromhead's Paloma Blue (6/1) make an impressive debut under David Roche, edging out Elliott's Oakley Hall by just over a length.