…but behind closed doors.
The featured Randox Ulster Grand National provided trainer Gearoid O’Loughlin and amateur rider Ben Harvey (first course winner) with their biggest wins of their careers when Space Cadet ran out a convincing winner of the big race writes Joe Kavanagh.
General Principal and Ifyoucancatchmenow dominated for most of the race with the last named finishing third.. Fitted with first-time blinkers and having contested the Welsh Grand National, Space Cadet made steady improvement in the final mile of the marathon and improved to a close fourth before challenging to lead at the final fence and deny the locally trained Amaulino winner of the race last year which made a gallant effort to prevail again.
Only six of the starters completed the course. The winner is owned by Chris Jones who has had multiple top horses but absent under the current strict regulations denying owners to attend due to coronavirus.
The winning trainer said: “ It’s unreal – my voice has gone! A great pot to win and it is great for the owner to give me the horse. Ben (Harvey,10 wins in points) 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!”
The Very Man trained by Gordon Elliott proved the clear cut winner of the Rated Hurdle with Luke Dempsey replacing Davy Russell on his intended mount yesterday. The winner was always close up as the locally trained Jimmy Two Times – winner of the race four years ago made much of the early running however The Very Man was always travelling ominously well and lead at the final flight before going clear. Favourite Wajaaha had every chance but unable to quicken late and trainer, Charles Byrnes having to again settle for second place. Elliott said:” He’s a grand sort. He had been beaten a few times, but in fairness to him he had some lovely runs and bumped into a few horses.”
The handicap hurdle supplied a local success and a 20/1 winner when Benefit North recorded a facile victory with Denis O’Regan abroad. The winner is trained at Crossgar by Colin Mc Bratney and owned by Newry businessman Cathal McGovern who landed the 2009 Galway Plate with Ballyholland also trained by McBratney who said: ”He’s a very, very pacey horse. He travels so easy and we knew he would travel at the top of the hill. He got a couple of lengths and was able to freewheel down the hill. I was expecting a good run. We thought we were going to be bang there today. There was a bit of money for him, but we have nothing to spend it on!”
Omagh jockey Simon Torrens was seen to excellent advantage when scoring on the JP Mc Manus-owned Golden Sunset in the handicap chase. The Niall Madden-trained horse was one of numerous holding claims at the penultimate fence but jumped to the front at the last to readily land the prize and following up Maze success for the pair in January.
On The Sod remains unbeaten in his four starts following a runaway victory in the hunterchase for Derrylin trainer David Christie and rider, Rob James. Three departed at the first fence but the winner always close up asserted at the last and shot clear. The Fermanagh trainer said: “He’s just a tremendously strong horse – he just gallops and gallops. That hill is made for him. Next year there is one winner and two winner hunter chases but that is a long way away at this time.”
The opener was won by the Thomas Mullins-trained, Barnaviddaun partnered by the trainer’s son David who is just back riding following a near career ending injury. The runner-up Hesamanofhisword finished with a late flourish however the Aintree Grand National (2016 on Rule The World) winning jockey was in command in the closing stages. Favourite, Vinnie Is Busy did not enhance his prospects when playing up at the start. Mullins said:” He stays well and is a big chaser in the making. He’s a well-deserved winner and it is great for his owner. There’s no soft in the ground – it is yielding ground, no worse.”
Elliott doubled up on the day when Ballyadam turned the concluding bumper into a procession. Despite racing keen the winner with Jamie Codd aboard cantered into the lead turning into the straight and appears to have a big future to warrant his £330,000 price tag having been bought from Wilson Dennison’s Templepatrick nursery following winning a Portrush point-to-point. The Meath trainer said:” The ground was too soft in Navan and he was a bit free, but he’s a good horse.”
The race meeting was held behind closed doors with no public, bookmakers or trainers etc on site. Horse Racing Ireland issued guidelines for how the meeting was to be conducted and social distancing was well in evidence.
Update: Horse Racing Ireland has announced today (24th March) that horse racing in Ireland will be cancelled until further notice.