Rugby hero Murphy celebrates as Linger gets over line in front
Former rugby star Johne Murphy was among the winning owners on day one of the Galway Festival when the well-backed Linger got home first in the second race of the day, the EasyFix Handicap Hurdle.
The former Munster and Leicester back, who heads the Rugby & Racing syndicate, saw the Joseph O'Brien-trained six-year-old justify 9/4 favouritism (gambled in from 3s) when beating Roachdale House home by six lengths.
The success went some way to making up for the disappointment the syndicate suffered here 12 months ago when Chateau Conti unseated JJ Slevin at the first fence.
"We did fancy him," said Murphy, who retired from professional rugby in 2015 after making almost 100 appearances for Munster. "We came to Galway with hopes but we've been here this time last year and he ended up falling at the first so we know all too well!
"He was in good form, he ran well when we bought him on the Flat and he has never been outside of the top three for us so we were very sweet on him but as it showed at three-furlong pole anything can happen.
"JJ got hampered a couple of times but he was really patient and he got a really good run up the inner so it was great for it to all finally come at a big race meeting."
This may not be the last we see of Linger in the winner's enclosure as he has entries in the Play The Tote Superfecta Handicap on Wednesday and also for the weekend.
There was more success for the O'Brien clan in the third race of the day when father and son combined to strike with odds-on shot Innisfree, which followed up impressively on his debut in Naas to just hold off Dermot Weld's Shekhem.
Gordon Elliott kicked off what could be a huge week for him as Lethal Steps (10/1) won the opener, the galwaybayhotel.com & galmont.com Novice Hurdle over two miles.
Pricked "Davy (Russell) said he travelled like a dream the whole way," said the Meath handler. "He said that he was happy the whole way so it was great. And he won with his ears pricked and a bit up his sleeve as well."
The Joe Murphy inmate Galtee Mist won the fourth race of the day at 20/1 with Colm O'Donoghue on board. The Tipperary based trainer didn't have a runner at last year's festival as his horses were unwell and revealed that Galtee Mist almost didn't travel to Ballybrit yesterday morning.
"We were a little bit worried about her this morning. She hadn't eaten up last night. We took her temperature and scoped her and she scoped perfect so we left there in the paddock for half an hour to have a quick look at her and said she'll do, she's fine, she is going to Galway."