O'Connell's Silk success puts Tipperary rivals in the shade
Rank outsider Silk Hall excelled under an astute Eddie O'Connell front-running steer to spring a 25/1 shock for Armagh handler James Lambe in the Kevin McManus Bookmaker Grimes Hurdle at Tipperary.
Sporting blinkers for a first time since joining Lambe over two years ago, the eight-year-old dug deep to consign the frustrating joint-favourite Steps To Freedom to the runner-up spot for a third time in a row by three-parts-of-a-length.
Lambe revealed that Silk Hall will now head for Galway next week, though not to emulate Rebel Fitz, which went on to Hurdle glory after landing this €62,500 Grade Three in 2012.
"He has had seven runs this year and he was just starting to get a bit lazy, so we decided to try the blinkers on him and told Eddie to be positive," Lambe explained of the James Callow-owned winner, which had been off since scoring at Galway in August 2011 prior to his return in March.
"He was third in the Scottish Champion Hurdle in April, so he hasn't become a bad horse overnight – I think the blinkers have just rejuvenated him a bit. He will probably go to Galway now for the Grade C hurdle over two miles and six furlongs."
Tom Mullins' Ballybrit regular Foster Cross pushed the first two hard, drawing 11 lengths clear of Midnight Game.
On a day when most winning connections had the western gala foremost in their minds, John The Soldier also continued his fine comeback with a ready triumph in the Martinstown Hurdle for Ian McCarthy.
The 9/1 shot spent 18 months off with a fractured pelvis, prior to joining Ray Hurley's Clonakilty yard in the spring. He has now won his last two completed starts in the John O'Donoghue silks made famous by dual Thyestes Chase hero Preists Leap.
"If he comes out of this okay, we'll see if there is something in Galway for him," Hurley said. "He was off for a long time but he is on the right road now."
Willie Mullins was in typically fine form, Gigginstown Stud's Make Your Mark initiating a short-priced treble for him in bloodless fashion at odds of 4/11 under Davy Russell in the Ballykisteen Hotel & Golf Resort Hurdle.
Ruby Walsh then sat tight on Laganbank when he blundered two out in the Paddy Downey Memorial Chase.
The partnership recovered to score by eight lengths from Imperial Shabra at odds of 5/2. "He loves fast ground and, being by Norwich, has to have it," Walsh revealed, adding that Laganbank could form part of the Closutton yard's Galway team.
Patrick Mullins was the third jockey to collect for the champion trainer when he steered Gigginstown's odds-on market leader Devils Bride to victory in the bumper.
On a card that produced 13 non-runners, including Mullins' morning favourite So Young in the Grimes Hurdle, Henry de Bromhead deserved the nod for the training performance of the day for having Sizing Symphony (1/1 favourite) straight enough to defy a 597-day lay-off in the beginners' chase.
Andrew Lynch's mount was the class act on duty, and duly travelled within himself for long enough to repel Shake The Bucket's challenge when the gloves came off.
In the handicap chase, a Galway Plate trial in name only, Eddie O'Connell was denied a big-race double on Ballyfinboy when Slieveardagh (14/1) knuckled down bravely to prevail by a nose for Barry Geraghty.
Edward O'Grady duly confirmed that his nine-year-old would skip Galway in favour of a visit to Killarney next month.