White Star Line rules supreme in Kingdom
White Star Line served up a facile five-length rout in yesterday's Guinness Kerry National to lose his maiden status over fences in grand style for stand-in rider Andrew Lynch.
A runner-up at the last two Cheltenham Festivals, the nine-year-old provided some local cheer in front of a crowd of 26,444 – up over 500 on the corresponding day last year – as he is owned by Patsy Byrne, one of the Kingdom's most distinguished ex-pats who was born a stone's throw away in Duagh.
Returned at odds of 16/1, his triumph will also have been a real fillip for Dessie Hughes, who watched his first win in the prestigious €160,000 handicap from home after recently undergoing surgery.
"He deserved that, as he has often been unlucky," Hughes' daughter Sandra beamed of White Star Line. "We knew if it wasn't too soft that he'd run well, and his class told on the drying ground. Dad is coming along well, so this is great."
Just like last year's hero Faltering Fullback, White Star Line began the day as a reserve, as did his JP McManus-owned stable-mate Wise Oscar, which eventually started favourite before finishing seventh.
With Hughes' stable jockey Bryan Cooper opting for Wise Oscar after McManus' Double Seven and Jim Dreaper's Go All The Way were scratched, Lynch – who had been booked to ride Go All The Way – got the call for White Star Line.
The partnership came through from the rear to lead turning in, and never looked like being passed. Top-weight Carlingford Lough kept on gamely to grab second from the front-running Muirhead, as last year's runner-up Questions Answered took fourth.
Only one horse really counted, though, as White Star Line bounded to a famous triumph under 10st 4lb. John Kiely, who trains the Galway Plate winner Carlingford Lough, gained come compensation when Ivy Gate (10/1) took the bumper under Andrew Latta, after PJ Colville and Declan Lavery combined for a 25/1 upset with Asockastar in the maiden hurdle.
Earlier, Lots Of Memories survived a last-flight blunder to claim the novice hurdle for Paul Fahey and Shane Butler in dramatic style. Headed by Silver Tassie after genuflecting on touching down, the 5/2 favourite rallied bravely to get back up by a neck.
Champion apprentice elect Connor King excelled again in the seven-furlong handicap, getting Cash Or Casualty (16/1) home by a neck in a bunched finish. King's 35th winner of a whirlwind campaign, it was a fifth of 2013 for his willing partner, which has been one of the stars of a breakthrough season for 27-year-old Naul handler Damian English.
"He is a fantastic horse," English said. "They came at him from both sides but he battled."
Joseph O'Brien rode his third winner of the week for his father Aidan and completed a short-priced double on the day when the one-eyed Eye Of The Storm (10/11) ran out a decisive victor of the 12-furlong Listed race from the long-time leader Inis Meain. The long odds-on Craftsman initiated the brace in the juvenile maiden.
In the 12-furlong handicap, Chris Hayes became a leading contender for ride of the week on Andy Oliver's Stony Grey, rushing the 4/1 shot into the lead when the pace steadied after half a mile.
"That was the winning of the race," Oliver admitted. "Chris is a Group One jockey now and that's the difference."