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Gearoid O'Loughlin's 25/1 shot Space Cadet takes Ulster National at Downpatrick

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22 March 2020; Jockey Ben Harvey on Space Cadet after winning the Randox Ulster National Handicap Steeplechase at Downpatrick Racecourse in Downpatrick, Down. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

22 March 2020; Jockey Ben Harvey on Space Cadet after winning the Randox Ulster National Handicap Steeplechase at Downpatrick Racecourse in Downpatrick, Down. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

22 March 2020; Jockey Ben Harvey on Space Cadet after winning the Randox Ulster National Handicap Steeplechase at Downpatrick Racecourse in Downpatrick, Down. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Thurles and Downpatrick occupied an unaccustomed centre stage as Ireland provided the reassuring action on an eerie weekend amid the escalation of the coronavirus pandemic.

After the British Horseracing Authority suspended all meetings, as of last Tuesday until the start of May at the earliest, Thurles staged a graded card on Saturday - and 24 hours later, it was the turn of the Randox Ulster National Handicap Chase.

Gearoid O'Loughlin's Space Cadet had his hour in the sun, securing the decent prize he had so often previously threatened in Downpatrick's annual staying showpiece over an extended three and a half miles.

At Thurles, Zero Ten restated his potential with an emphatic victory in the Pierce Molony Memorial Novice Chase.

Emmet Mullins' seven-year-old already appeared to be going best when he was left in front two out - and he and the trainer's cousin David Mullins made no mistake from there, coasting home by 14 lengths at 3-1 after nearest challenger Cut The Mustard fell at the last.

The winning trainer said: "It was brilliant. We were a bit unlucky the last day when he tipped up with a novicey fall - and the tables have turned today, because we had a bit of luck.

"He's learning, and so are we."

Racing also continues, behind closed doors as in Ireland, in a smattering of other far-flung jurisdictions - and British jockey Tom Marquand had a landmark success with his first Group One victory in the Ranvet Stakes at Rosehill in Australia on Saturday.

His half-length win on Addeybb not only completed a long-term plan for William Haggas but a double for the Newmarket trainer, whose Young Rascal was also partnered to victory by Marquand - by the same margin in a Group Three handicap on the card.

Sunday began with a dramatic last-gasp win for hot favourite Golden Sixty in the BMW Hong Kong Derby at Sha Tin, extending his winning sequence to seven and career record to 10 from 11 as he registered a clean sweep in the four-year-olds' Classic Series.

It was at Downpatrick, though, that Space Cadet set the seal on the weekend with a shock 25-1 victory by two lengths in the Ulster National, from last year's winner Amaulino - who was also allowed to go off at 20-1.

Having spent a large part of his career with Gordon Elliott, Space Cadet was moved by owner Chris Jones to Gearoid O'Loughlin's yard last year - and despite winning two point-to-points for his new handler, he had not managed to bag a race under rules since October 2016.

There had been the odd glimmer of hope, though - with Space Cadet finishing fourth to Chris's Dream in the Troytown in November and fifth in the Leinster National last time.

He was only 16-1 for the Welsh National in December and had dropped further in the weights, so in hindsight his 25-1 starting price looked very generous.

Ridden by amateur Ben Harvey - who was registering his first success under rules - and travelling well in first-time blinkers, Space Cadet burst between last year's winner Amaulino and Elliott's General Principle to win by two lengths and deny the eventual runner-up a repeat win.

Ifyoucatchmenow stayed on to take third after the last.

O'Loughlin said: "Unreal, my voice has gone! A great pot to win and it is great for the owner to give me the horse.

"Ben had won his first point-to-point on him and, to tell you the truth, I thought he would run well today, but I said to myself we would be going point-to-pointing again next year.

"It was a big shock to me, but obviously the blinkers worked a treat. I kind of had been holding off and holding off having them on him.

"I think they made all the difference and I probably have learned how to train him - the key to training him is not to train him! He hasn't done a stroke since he ran the last day.

"This is Ben's first winner (on the track). He comes into me as often as he can. He is in two mornings and he is a big part of the team. I just thought he knows him and the 7lb off would help. He gets on as well as anybody with the horse.

"That's his (Space Cadet's) third National this year, so third time lucky!

"We'll have to think about an Irish National now as he will be high enough rated after that."

PA Media