Monday 18 December 2017

Mullins double but tough day for punters

Aubrey McMahon celebrates after winning the Connacht Hotel Handicap on Whiskey Sour on Day of the Galway Festival at Ballybrit yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Aubrey McMahon celebrates after winning the Connacht Hotel Handicap on Whiskey Sour on Day of the Galway Festival at Ballybrit yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

Willie Mullins enjoyed a stunning winner, and three placed horses, in the feature race of day one at the Galway Festival, as the 16/1 poke Whiskey Sour prospered for little-known amateur Aubrey McMahon.

The 19-year-old, a 7lb claimer sporting the common silks of his father and well-known punter Luke, was gobsmacked as Whiskey Sour ran away with the feature event, one of the great races in the calendar for amateurs – the first leg of a double for the champion trainer.

While Mullins had won the €100,000 race as a rider, it had eluded him since. Though his son Patrick’s Lagostovegas performed a fine race from a poor draw in third, and stablemate Digeanta was fourth, Whiskey Sour’s superiority was clear.

The McMahon family were emotional afterwards, as the triumphant rider had never experienced a victory remotely as big. It owed much to the pace of the race, so slow that it seemed that the ambulance was on the verge of passing the field out at one stage.

Willie Mullins: success on day one. Photo: Sportsfile
Willie Mullins: success on day one. Photo: Sportsfile

Whiskey Sour was a seven-furlong festival winner when trained by Edward Lynam, so he was never going to lack speed when the sprint finish commenced.

“Aubrey was fantastic. For a 7lb claiming rider to ride a winner like that is fantastic – a young rider like that with so little experience,” said Mullins.

“He’s a winner here before and had a lovely weight. It was just what traffic problems Aubrey was going to encounter and whether he could handle them.

“He rode a good race considering the way the race panned out and I thought he was very good. He didn’t panic and didn’t try and go for gaps that weren’t there.

“He just waited and waited until the horse got daylight and when he got daylight he came with his challenge.

“This race is always a tough race: there are more hard-luck stories in this race than most. It was fantastic for him and for Luke, his father, who is a great patron of the stable for so long.”

A crowd of 19,663 on a pleasant evening was present to see an inexperienced rider’s dream come true. “The race went like clockwork,” a jubilant McMahon said.

Barry Geraghty eased back into action on 4/9 Le Richebourg in the novice hurdle and Joseph O'Brien's charge triumphed after coming off the bridle briefly two out, Geraghty hailing the canny race Andrew Lynch had ridden on front-runner Twobeelucky.

The winner is a smart prospect. "They went very slow and then winged down over the last two: it was very tactical," said O'Brien.

"He's a National Hunt-bred horse running against horses off the Flat so that would be playing into their hands. He's exciting. He missed the second-last and it's hard to gain momentum up the hill here; he seemed to do it fairly sharpish."

Locally trained winners mean a great deal to those responsible - "my Cheltenham", said Lawrencetown-based Shane Ryder - and Pateen pulled out more in the handicap hurdle at 20/1, though backers of 4/1 favourite Artful Artist in second could rue the traffic problems he and Davy Russell encountered.

And another Galwegian, Carlow-based Pat Fahy, struck when 6/1 Pearl Of The West scored under Billy Lee, running in the colours of another trainer in Galway, Martin Cullinane.

Andy Slattery admitted that he only ran Spiorad Saoirse in the juvenile maiden "because the owners wanted him to" and that his work only last week had "been moderate".

However, in a weak renewal of a race in which neither Dermot Weld nor Aidan O'Brien ran anything and the two market leaders flopped, something had to win. With Declan McDonogh in overdrive, the 14/1 chance prevailed on the wire.

Dinky Inty (12/1) was another surprise winner on a difficult night for punters, before Poet Power completed a double for Mullins in the last, powering away at 6/1 under son Patrick. "She saves her best for the track," the rider said - like his own dad.

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