Eric McNamara's love affair with the Guinness Kerry National continued yesterday when Faltering Fullback sprung a 33/1 shock to lead home stablemate Questions Answered and in the process secure the Limerick trainer a stunning third triumph in the prestigious handicap.
Without a win since scoring on his chasing debut at the Harvest Festival in 2009, the nine-year-old started the day as second reserve, only for McNamara to get a call at 11.0 to say that a place in the starting line-up had become available due to the withdrawal of Save My Blushes.
McNamara followed up with a call to Danny Mullins, and the 20-year-old rider, son of trainer Tony, seized the opportunity with a composed performance to finish the day with the biggest victory of his short career.
While Ponmeoath secured back-to-back victories for McNamara in the €160,000 showpiece in 2007 and '08, the Rathkeale handler has endured far more lean times of late. His durable 12-year-old finished a respectable eighth yesterday on his sixth appearance in the gruelling three-miler, but this was Faltering Fullback's moment.
"I really fancied Questions Answered and he ran a fabulous race to finish second," McNamara revealed afterwards, "but Faltering Fullback picked the right day to come back to form. He lost his way for no particular reason, but he went on the heavy ground today and I suppose having just 9st 12lb was a big plus in the conditions. He got a fabulous ride from Danny, and this really has been a great race for us."
Faltering Fullback, the longest-priced winner in the history of the race, is owned by the Cck Syndicate, one of whose members, Michael Fitzsimons, owns a pub alongside Arsenal's Emirates Stadium that the horse was named after.
Sean Curran, who heads the syndicate, also has a share in the runner-up and as the field left the back straight the last time, it became clear that one or both horses would play a part in the finish.
Long-time leader Whodoyouthink crashed out at the fourth-last fence, while favourite Caduceus and Willie Mullins' well-fancied Themoonandsixpence had pulled up without ever figuring. That left the two stable-mates in contention, and Faltering Fullback drew clear for what was a popular result, despite being a rank outsider.
Whodoyouthink's trainer Oliver McKiernan had better luck when Whatever Jacksays, 2/1 favourite from 7/4, readily made all under Robbie Colgan in the Ballygarry House Hotel Novice Hurdle. Likewise, Pat Hughes, who saddled Caduceus, ended the day on a positive note as his Teelin Star (6/5 favourite) justified short odds in the bumper.
Danny Mullins, however, was denied a double on Mumbo Jumbo when Tony Martin's Barry Geraghty-ridden Ted Veale emerged on top by a nose after the two 7/4 joint-favourites had gone toe-to-toe all the way up the straight.
Earlier, Shane 'Dusty' Foley produced an absolute gem of a steer from stall nine on Mick Halford's Ondeafears (9/2) to claim the Exchange Inn & Brodericks Bar Handicap. In the Listowel Arms juvenile maiden, Pat Smullen cut Joseph O'Brien's lead in the jockeys' championship to two on Dermot Weld's Secret Recipe (5/2).
O'Brien, though, soon cancelled that out by claiming the Listed Edmund & Josie Whelan Memorial Stakes on Chamonix (evens favourite) from stablemate Demurely.
Cork duo Michael 'Trixie' Barry and Davy Condon combined to take the Seamus Mulvaney Handicap Chase with Colls Corner (7/1), on a day when bookies' turnover was down 13pc to €1,074,200. Attendance held up well, down just 2pc to 25,940.