Katie McNamara looks back on a busy Christmas of racing where Rathkeale jockey Robert Jones enjoyed a particularly good time of it
Due to the two-week absence of my column, there is plenty of action to catch up on over the Christmas period. Two of the most anticipated four-day festivals of the year, Limerick and Leopardstown, got underway on St Stephen’s Day.
The Limerick meeting could not have opened better, with the first winner of the festival being trained by local trainer Enda Bolger. ‘Love Rory’ went off the 25/1 outsider of the field in the O’Kelly Bros Contractor’s Hurdle with the Tony Martin trained ‘Umpact’ going off the evens favourite. However, the four-year-old son of ‘Winged Love’ was given a spectacular ride by Croom native JT Mcnamara to take the €13,325 first prize.
Bolger commented afterwards “we always thought he would make a nice chaser and fences will be his forte. He did have a nice run at Cork and he will probably go back for a novice hurdle now. Hopefully he will have a future and he jumps banks as well”. Bolger did not finish his winning run there as on the final day of the Limerick festival, he saddled the improving ‘Drawn n Drank’ to take the Happy New Year from Limerick Handicap Hurdle.
For those of you who have become regular readers of this column, I hope you took my advice in following this horse at Christmas time and had a punt on this lad. The six-year-old, who also won last time out, went off the 3/1 second favourite and did his supporters proud taking the race by an impressive 11 lengths. Jockey Martin Ferris was on board once again. Always thinking ahead, Bolger is already targeting the horse at the La Touche Cup which has become a speciality of the trainer at this stage. However for the time been, ‘Drawn n Drank’ will be kept over hurdles until next summer according to his handler. A memorable week for Bolger and his team was topped off with a point to point winner in Dromahane on Sunday with the old timer ‘Freneys well’ entering the winner’s enclosure for the seventh time of his career. The 12-year-old, who is owned by JP McManus, was given a well timed ride by novice rider Trevor Ryan who was riding his first ever point to point winner and who is based with Bolger in Bruree.
Not a week goes by when Andrew Mcnamara Jnr does not make it into the winners enclosure at least once. He started St Stephen’s Day with a bang taking the big race of the day, the Grade 2 Greenmount Park Novice Chase on the very promising ‘Argocat’. The Willie Mullin’s trained ‘Mikael D’haguenet’ went off the 8/11 favourite for the feature race but unfortunately met his fate when falling five fences from home.
This left the second favourite ‘Argocat’ with only three other rivals to contend with, but none of these were good enough to even shake the classy four year old as he won with ease eight lengths from ‘Snooze’. ‘Argocat’ is trained by Gold Cup winning trainer Tom Taaffe and is owned by his loyal supporter’s Fitri and Doc Hay who were having their first ever Grade 2 winner. The horse is now being aimed at the Jewson Novices Chase at Cheltenham in March and really looks a force to be reckoned with.
Taaffe doubled up on the day as way up north in Down Royal, Our very own Mark Enright steered his ‘Third opinion’ to victory in the Sean Graham bookmaker’s Hurdle’. McNamara did not stop there, following up with another win two days later in Leopardstown with ‘Flying Light’ taking the Mongey Communications novice Handicap Hurdle. It was quite a gripping finish as the AP McCoy-ridden ‘Grange’ would not go down without a fight, but ‘Flying Light’ was full of heart as he battled under the strong drive of McNamara to take the race by a neck. Andrew’s talented younger brother Robbie also made it a great Christmas by taking the Irish Independent beginners chase on the 28th with the Jim Culloty trained ‘Beeverstown’. Sent off at 8-1, ‘Beeverstown lead the field from start to finish under a typically cool ride from Mcnamara taking the race by 3 ½ lengths from the well fancied Mullins inmate ‘Turban’.
Rathkeale trainer Eric McNamara also had a lot to smile about on St Stephens Day as his ever consistent ‘Ponmeword’ eventually got his head in front to take the Sliabh luachra handicap Chase by 6 lengths from ‘Yeoman’. ‘Ponmeword’ was backed from 9-2 into 3-1 favourite and was given a very patient ride by Robert Jones who dropped the eight-year-old out and slowly let the horse find his way into the race. Mcnamara commented afterwards “he is very consistent and has been placed on numerous occasions so he deserved to get his day.”
‘Ponmeword’ lined up again on Monday in Tramore and was sent off the 4/5 favourite but unfortunately for connections it was not meant to be as he slipped up on the bend turning into the home straight when travelling strongly under Jones 1 length off the leader. Thankfully both horse and rider were ok and wherever McNamara decides to go with ‘Ponmeword’ next, he is sure to be in the money again. Jones went on to have a Christmas to remember as he rode another two winners over the next two days in the forms of ‘Forjoethepainter’ and ‘Dazzler’s Day’.
Cavan trainer Anthony Mulholland had a fair way to travel with ‘Forjoethepainter’ but thankfully it was worth his while as Jones steered the 7/1 shot to a 3 ¼ length victory in the Goggin Buckley Engineering Handicap hurdle from the locally trained ‘I’lltellimar king’. The next day brought even more joy as the 20/1 shot ‘Dazzler’s Day’ seemed to surprise everyone taking the Ryan’s cleaning Handicap Hurdle by an impressive 4 ½ lengths from ‘Missie Ella’.
The Charles Byrnes inmate was given a cool ride by Jones who set the pace and took a few lengths out of the field before turning into the straight where the five-year old stayed on strongly to the line. ‘Dazzler’s Day’ had no real previous form to this win but first time blinkers seemed to have smartened this son of ‘Lando’ up.
Rathkeale based Jones also took the title of Leading Jockey for the four day Limerick Christmas Festival where the track did a magnificent job to stage the four-day festival given the wet weather conditions. It was also a double on the day for trainer Byrnes who landed the feature race of the day with the talented ‘Our Vinnie’. The five-year-old landed the Grade 3 Liberty Insurance Novice Hurdle in a good battle to the line with the Willie Mullin’s trained ‘Pride Of The Parish’.
The Byrnes inmate and ‘Pride Of The Parish’ had it between them when ‘Our Vinnie’ pecked on landing after the last hurdle, however the son of ‘Vinnie Roe’ battled gamely to take the race by a short head.
‘Our Vinnie’ is not short of heart and has illustrated just how tough he is when winning in Cork last time out and when putting it up to ‘According to Trev’ in Cheltenham prior to that. Wherever this talented youngster goes next he is sure to not go down without a fight.
Local jockey Brian O’Connell took the Tim Duggan Memorial Handicap chase on the 27th which is a real competitive affair each year. This year the John Joe Walsh trained ‘Jack Absolute’ was sent off at odds of 16/1 and was winning in Limerick for the sixth time in his career.
The Keith Donoghue ridden ‘Harpsy Cord’ was four lengths clear when crashing out at the last leaving the race at the mercy of ‘Jack absolute’ and the Robert Tyner trained ‘Tullintain’. Here ‘Jack Absolute’ showed his guts battling strongly to take the race by 1 ¼ lengths.