Jack Kennedy was thrilled to secure his first ever seasonal century of winners after Coko Beach made a foot-perfect debut in the cross-country sphere at Punchestown.
The multiple Grade One-winning rider has suffered more than his fair share of injury setbacks in recent years, but leads Paul Townend in the race to be crowned this season’s champion jockey in Ireland.
The 24-year-old was out of luck at the Dublin Racing Festival over the weekend, but made an immediate impact for his boss Gordon Elliott in the opening race on Monday.
Coko Beach, whose CV includes big-race wins in the Thyestes Chase and the Troytown, was the 11-8 favourite for the SBK P.P. Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase and took to the new discipline like a duck to water, passing the post with six lengths in hand over Enda Bolger’s Genois.
Betfair halved the Gigginstown-owned winner to 5-1 for the championship event at Cheltenham in March.
Kennedy said: “It’s great to get it and it was lovely to do it on something like that – it’s probably as much fun as I’ve ever had on a racehorse, to be honest.
“He loved it and is a natural. I was excited when I saw him entered. Gordon has brought him to a local cross-country track for about a year to sweeten him up a bit. He’s won some good pots in that time.
“He loved it and was looking for the next one (obstacle) all the time. I’m not sure who enjoyed it more, me or him!
“He’s obviously a high-class horse and it opens up more doors for him.
“I was stuck on 99 for a while and delighted to get it done.”
Willie Mullins secured his 200th winner of the campaign later in the afternoon as the Rich and Susannah Ricci-owned Mercurey outclassed his rivals in the SBK Maiden Hurdle.
A debut winner in a Gowran Park bumper three years ago, the six-year-old had only run three time since and finished third on his return from over a year on the sidelines at this track three weeks ago.
With that comeback run under his belt, Mercurey was the 30-100 favourite to go a couple of places better under the trainer’s nephew Danny Mullins and was impressive in pulling 22 lengths clear of his rivals.
The rider, who enjoyed a treble at the Dublin Racing Festival on Saturday, said: “His jumping was very good. He got tight to one down the back, but I wanted to see what he was like on an in-between stride as well. He figured that out well and when you need him, he’s very good.
“He’s filled into himself for a tall horse. It took him a year after that good four-year-old season but he’s getting there now.”