Elliott and Mullins look sure to go head to head for the Trainers’ Championship in Ireland this winter, but a treble at Galway yesterday for Noel Meade reaffirmed his status as one of the leading handlers across the Irish Sea.
It’s now 10 years since Willie Mullins replaced Noel Meade as the dominant force in Irish Jump racing. The master of Closutton has stood at the top of the pile for a decade, and though Meade has had plenty of success in that time, last season proved to be something of a struggle, with just 30 wins in total.
The County Meath trainer has himself a new ‘top-jock’ after the retirement of Paul Carberry. And it was Sean Flanagan that yesterday steered two of the three winners to success. Le Martalin took the opening maiden hurdle, and looks a useful sort. This was the five-year-old’s first attempt at hurdles, and in the main he jumped well. He met a few flights on the wrong stride, but appeared capable of quickly correcting himself. He was pretty keen throughout, but clearly has a huge engine, streaking clear of the field late on, to win by an eased down 17 lengths.
Of the youngster, Meade said: “He is a nice horse and has great scope. I see him being a great chaser in time. I presume we will go for a novice with him now somewhere.”
Just over an hour later it was one of Meade’s stalwarts producing a power-packed finish to win for the second time over fences. Monksland is undoubtedly a class act, though his jumping can be patchy at best. The long run-in at Galway allowed him to overhaul the slicker jumping Marinero, with Flanagan getting him ahead in the shadow of the post.
Meade was pretty pleased with the performance, saying: “I'm thrilled with him and I'm thrilled with the ride he got as well. Sean knew he wasn't that wound up and that he had to hold on to him for as long as he could and he did. He made a few errors and if he could rule them out it would be great. He just lacks a bit of scope and he is not easy to train. He swims a lot and spends a lot of time in the spa, but when he is right he is not a bad horse.”
The County Meath handler has a strong looking team for this campaign, and could be in for one of his most productive winters for some time. Along with several other handlers, he benefitted from the recent split between Mullins and Gigginstown; receiving 10 horses for the new season.
One of the most eye-catching of the newcomers is the staying chaser Measureofmydreams. Twice a winner last winter, he was a terrific third in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. He was then sent off favourite for the Scottish Grand National, but only got as far as the third fence. He’s an exciting prospect, and sure to be competitive in the big staying handicaps.
Meade is known for being fast out of the blocks, and as such he’s worth following from now to Christmas. One that Meade is hoping to have on the track in the next few weeks, is the Gigginstown owned five-year-old Disko. Injured for much of last season, he’s set to go over fences. Meade thinks plenty of this grey son of Martaline, and he could make quite an impact over the larger obstacles.
Mrs Patricia Hunt is one of Meade’s most loyal supporters, and along with the better-known Monksland and Snow Falcon, she has a number of promising youngsters in the yard. Moulin A Vent looks to have a bright future, having battled bravely to win the closing bumper at Galway. That victory brought up the Meade treble, and this youngster is likely to be sent over hurdles sooner rather than later. He’s a sizeable unit and surely a chaser down the line.
Road To Riches remains the yard’s headline act, but he is on the ‘easy list’ having had a spinal operation. Meade hopes to have the classy chaser back for Christmas. A previous winner of the Grade 1 Lexus Chase, he’s still only a nine-year-old, and should continue to be competitive at the highest level.
The trainer is also hoping that the aforementioned Snow Falcon can compete against the best this winter. His erratic jumping has proved an issue in the past, but as a six-year-old there is still room for improvement, and he could still develop into one of Ireland’s leading staying hurdlers.
Another strapping youngster with huge potential is The Rory Story. He won a recent bumper at Navan for Nina Carberry, and should make into a useful hurdler over trips around two-and-a-half miles. The five-year-old is a son a Flemensfirth, out of a Phardante mare, and though green at Navan showed a willing attitude to win.
Meade also has high hopes for Wounded Warrior. The seven-year-old had an interrupted campaign last year and it is hoped that he can make a mark in staying chases, possibly progressing into a Grand National contender. He’s likely to start out in a competitive looking Grade 3 at Punchestown tomorrow, having apparently been working well at home.
An eight-time Champion Trainer, Meade has been at it since the early 70’s. The old saying ‘form is temporary, but class is permanent’ could well prove the case this winter. The outstanding trainer knows what it takes to win at the highest level, and we may well be about to see a resurgence from the County Meath team.