Darragh O’Keeffe celebrated his 21st birthday in fitting fashion with a smooth success on Fag An Bealach in the Randox Ulster National Handicap Chase at Downpatrick.
O’Keeffe, who won the Grade One Savills Chase at Leopardstown on A Plus Tard in December, brought Arthur Moore’s seven-year-old with a well-timed challenge to land the extended three-and-a-half-mile stamina test.
Dream Conti made most of the running, accompanied by the 14-year-old Kruzhlinin, but it was all change at the business end as Fag An Bealach (17-2) loomed menacingly to make his bid.
Leading at the final fence, Fag An Bealach powered up the hill to land the spoils by nine lengths from Flinck (50-1). Askann was a length and a quarter away in third place, with Er Dancer fourth.
Moore said: “I’m delighted for the Beresfords and Athene Keatinge as they have been very loyal supporters all along.
“I was sort of half-keeping her for the three-mile novice handicap in Navan as a step up to three (miles) and she didn’t get into that – we are probably lucky she didn’t because this race suited her very well. The ground was perfect for her.
“This was her first time over further than two and a half. Her dam is a half-sister to Niche Market, an Irish National winner, so there was no reason why she wouldn’t stay. She got in by the skin of her teeth.
“She still hasn’t won her hurdle race! This is a great day – I rode the winner in my time and previously trained the winner. I rode the winner for Willie Rooney, the grandfather of my son-in-law.
“You wouldn’t know what she would do as she is only a seven-year-old, so it is all in front of her.”