Noel Meade enjoys birthday winner as Bloke delivers at Cork

Hes A Hardy Bloke provided Noel Meade with a winner on his 70th birthday with victory in the opening race at Cork on Saturday.

The Tu Va handler has established himself as one of the great Irish National Hunt trainers of the modern era since saddling his first winner some 50 years ago – and has won the Irish trainers’ title on multiple occasions.

Meade’s many Grade One winners include Harchibald, Go Native, Pandorama and Road To Riches.

Carrying the colours of six-times Cheltenham Festival-winning mare Quevega, Hes A Hardy Bloke was the 11-8 favourite for the GAIN Rated Novice Hurdle – and was not hard pressed to beat Takarengo by four lengths in the hands of Sean Flanagan.

The jockey said: “Happy days – it’s nice to get one for the birthday boy!

“The have gone a really nice gallop in the ground. He is a horse we thought had a very high cruising speed, but he has got through the ground quite well and has done it easily.”

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The Mouse Morris-trained Gentlemansgame ran out a wide-margin winner of the Maiden Hurdle.

A 250,000 euros purchase two months ago after impressing on his sole start in the point-to-point field, the grey looked an exciting recruit judged on this 21-length demolition job under Rachael Blackmore.

“He is a real chaser – he is a good, genuine type of horse who loves jumping and should have a nice future over fences,” said Morris.

“He wouldn’t show you a whole lot at home. We’ll now talk to Robcour (owner Brian Acheson) and see what they want to do.”

Willie Mullins continued his fantastic run of form, with the champion trainer’s nephew Danny Mullins steering Koshari to glory in the GAIN Handicap Hurdle.

The 4-1 shot defied a lengthy absence of 875 days to score by three and a half lengths from Fairyhill Run.

“It was nice to get it and it’s a proper training performance from Willie to have him back here in that shape after a long lay-off,” said the winning rider.

“He has done well physically from his break, did it well today and hopefully he can pick up a few more races.”

Velvet Elvis was an 11-8 winner of the Happy New Year From All At Cork Maiden Hurdle for Tom Gibney and Darragh O’Keeffe, before Robert Tyner and Phillip Enright combined to land the Thanks To All The Frontline Workers Beginners Chase with even-money shot Exit To The West.

Enright said: “She was entitled to do that on her form – she jumps and she stays and is proven on her two chase runs.

“She didn’t really do any more than you’d expect with the type of race it was.”

Robert Widger is eyeing high-profile races at Leopardstown and Cheltenham for Treacysenniscorthy after claiming top honours in the GAIN Handicap Chase, with Kevin Brouder the winning rider.

Widger said: “He’s racing off a lower mark than his hurdles rating and probably a lot of those horses today were exposed, so off his hurdles mark you’d have given him a chance.

“The Leopardstown Chase is one aim and there’s a Grand National trial at Naas over three miles and four furlongs in March. We’ll aim him for Leopardstown and if the ground is OK he’ll go for that.

“We half-thought he might be entitled to a little squeak in something like the Kim Muir at Cheltenham – three miles and two furlongs on better ground would suit him.”

Dot Love’s Betty Zane was a surprise 25-1 winner of the concluding bumper.

Exeter frozen off

Friday’s meeting at Exeter has been called off due to a frozen track.

An initial inspection was held at 9.30am and while the frost sheets deployed on the track had done their job, officials were concerned by a slow rise in temperature, forcing another check.

That 10.30am inspection showed there had not been sufficient improvement in conditions, with the track tweeting: “Unfortunately, we have not passed this morning’s second inspection. New Year’s Day Racing at Exeter has been abandoned.”

Musselburgh is the only jumps meeting to go ahead after it passed an 8am precautionary check. The card scheduled for Cheltenham had already been cancelled earlier in the week.

Saturday’s Cork card will also need a morning inspection, with officials planning to assess conditions at 8am.

An Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board statement said: “Due to the risk of frost overnight, there will be an 8am precautionary inspection at Cork tomorrow morning ahead of the fixture scheduled to take place on Saturday.

“Following a dry 24 hours the ground at Cork is now soft to heavy and the forecast is mainly dry and cold.”

Super Sayce is all Gold for Mick Winters

Sayce Gold looks a hugely exciting prospect for Mick Winters having strolled to victory in the Kerry Group Stayers Novice Hurdle at Cork.

Winters has scaled the heights of the game with the likes of Rebel Fitz and Missunited – and after a few quiet seasons he looks sure to be back in big time with this Trevor Hemmings-owned mare.

The seven-year-old won a point-to-point last November and broke her duck under rules in her second bumper at Fairyhouse last month.

Sent immediately over hurdles, the imposing type stepped up to just short of three miles at Thurles and fairly bolted up, making all the running.

Up in class to Grade Three company on this occasion, she was ridden with more restraint by Darragh O’Keeffe but never looked in any danger.

Always travelling extremely strongly, O’Keeffe was happy to stick to the rail while several rivals went in search of better ground and on turning into the straight Sayce Gold (7-4) was clear.

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She did not have to be asked a question to beat Ragnar Lodbrok by eight lengths.

“We are very lucky to have one like that and we have great help at home and all work together. Darragh O’Keeffe came over the other day when Brian Hayes (riding at Punchestown) couldn’t make it and did a bit of work with her,” said Winters.

“She learned a bit today as she didn’t have to do it all in front.

“I think two and a half miles is perfect for her and soft ground is a help – if the ground was too quick you wouldn’t run, she loves to put her toe into it. I have no idea what plans are and I’ll leave that to Mick Meagher, Trevor’s manager.”

Reflecting on some of the good horses he has had in his care, Winters said: “Some horses you can see, some you can’t. When Rebel Fitz came into the yard, he reminded me of Master Minded, although I had one horse Monsignor (dual Cheltenham winner) who was a great mover and I even had him out hunting, but he slipped me.

“I had him out hunting and a man hopped off him after a day’s hunting and said ‘he’s only a hunter!’.

“If she (Sayce Gold) is one piece and we are all alive, fences are tempting.”

Mount Ida put in a huge leap at the final fence to win the Kerry Group Irish EBF Mares Novice Chase.

Trained by Gordon Elliott, the six-year-old had finished one place behind Joseph O’Brien’s Scarlet And Dove in third at this track last month, and the two met again on the same terms.

It was the two main market protagonists who were fighting out the finish in the straight and the final fence proved a turning point.

Denis O’Regan was positive on his mount, asking for everything, and she fairly flew it, while Scarlet And Dove was not quite as fluent.

Mount Ida, the 5-2 favourite, went on to win by four and a half lengths.

“She stayed at it well. I felt if she showed up in the same form as the last day, with a good round of jumping, and go forward a bit earlier, she was bound to be competitive,” said O’Regan.

“She possibly came forward from her run the last day and that run the last day wasn’t a bad race. It is lovely to win the race and get the black type all in one.

“It’s great to get a winner for Gordon.”

Chacun Pour Soi makes no mistake at Cork

Chacun Pour Soi justified long odds-on favouritism to make a winning return to action in the Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase at Cork.

Trained by Willie Mullins, the eight-year-old does not have many miles on the clock and showed his class when beating stablemate Min in the Dublin Chase last season.

He was among the favourites for the Queen Mother Champion Chase but missed the race at the 11th hour with a minor setback and was having his first run for 309 days.

With stable jockey Paul Townend staying loyal to Chacun Pour Soi rather than riding Min in the John Durkan Memorial at Punchestown, the 1-5 market leader was settled in third as Djingle and Cash Back forced the gallop.

Just briefly Townend had to give his mount a shake of the reins to take closer order entering the straight, but he was soon back on the bridle and a good leap at the last sealed the deal.

Stablemate Cash Back looked booked for second but took a crashing fall at the last, bringing down Djingle. Thankfully both horses and jockeys escaped unhurt.

While Betfair trimmed the winner into 11-4 from 3-1 for Cheltenham in March, Coral went 3-1 from 7-2.

“It was a great start for him. He was fairly asleep early on in the race and got a good blow into himself,” said Townend.

“He had the other two well beaten when they fell at the last and was entitled to win. Thankfully he did and it’s good to get him back on the track.”

Paul Townend with Chacun Pour Soi after victory at Cork
Paul Townend with Chacun Pour Soi after victory at Cork (Thomas Weekes/PA)

Regarding his jumping, Townend added: “Touch wood, he’s deadly – I don’t want to put the mockers on him. He’s very good.

“The other two have to show their hands earlier with the way they race, he just had that bit of class.

“He took a good blow and I think he’ll come on plenty for it.”

All eyes on returning Chacun Pour Soi at Cork

Chacun Pour Soi begins a campaign connections hope will culminate with a belated tilt at the Queen Mother Champion Chase in Sunday’s Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase at Cork.

The Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old was considered Ireland’s leading hope for last season’s Champion Chase after beating esteemed stable companion Min at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown in February.

However, while the French import travelled to Cheltenham, he had to be withdrawn on the morning of the race due to a stone bruise, while the coronavirus outbreak prevented him bidding for compensation at either Aintree or Punchestown.

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Chacun Pour Soi will be all the rage to make a successful return in a race Mullins has already won 10 times, with Douvan and Un De Sceaux among the equine stars to feature on the recent roll of honour.

Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “Chacun Pour Soi is in great form at home. The Hilly Way has been a very lucky race for us and this looks an ideal opportunity to start his season.

“Hopefully all roads lead to the Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March.”

Chacun Pour Soi carries the familiar colours of Rich Ricci, who would surely love to provide Mullins with his very first Champion Chase success next spring.

Speaking on the Nick Luck Daily Podcast, Ricci’s racing manager Joe Chambers said: “The situation is he’s in very good form at home and worked very well on Tuesday.

“Last year he started off at Leopardstown at Christmas and it was pretty evident in his subsequent run at the Dublin Racing Festival that he had improved a lot fitness-wise for that. Willie is happy enough to let him take his chance under a penalty at Cork on Sunday.

“He’s obviously got a lot of ability, but it was a kick in the nether regions on the Wednesday morning of Cheltenham when Willie called to say he couldn’t run in the Queen Mother.

Chosen Mate is among Chacun Pour Soi's rivals
Chosen Mate is among Chacun Pour Soi’s rivals (Tim Goode/PA)

“I’d like to think he’s up being extremely competitive in a Champion Chase – I think he has demonstrated he has a bit of a ‘wow’ factor about him.

“We’d love to have a clear run with him and not be in any doubt where we stand.”

Chacun Pour Soi is joined by stable companion Cash Back in the Grade Two contest, while Gordon Elliott’s Grand Annual winner Chosen Mate and Darasso from Joseph O’Brien’s yard also feature in a seven-strong field.

Appreciate It makes no mistake on hurdling bow

Champion Bumper runner-up Appreciate It made a smooth start to his career over hurdles at Cork.

The six-year-old was the hot favourite to provide trainer Willie Mullins with a 10th Champion Bumper success at the Cheltenham Festival last season following successive wins in that sphere, but was unable to resist the late surge of stable companion Ferny Hollow.

With Ferny Hollow having made a successful switch to the jumping game at Gowran Park on Friday, Appreciate It was 1-12 to emulate him in the I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Maiden Hurdle under Paul Townend.

The son of Jeremy jumped smartly throughout, and while 50-1 shot Master Mcshee gave him a lead into the home straight and did his best to make a race of it, Appreciate It pulled two and a half lengths clear on the run-in with the minimum of fuss.

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“I’m very happy and he jumped brilliantly the whole way and picked up well from the back of the last,” said Townend.

“He is deadly to jump and had a lot of it done (for previous trainer Pat Doyle) before we went jumping him.

“Over two miles you couldn’t be happier with him and he’ll have no problem going further.”

Bet365 make Appreciate It the 10-1 favourite for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

Willie Mullins and Paul Townend enjoyed another successful day
Willie Mullins and Paul Townend enjoyed another successful day (Simon Cooper/PA)

Mullins and Townend had earlier teamed up to land division one of the Sobac Used On Cork Racecourse Maiden Hurdle with French recruit Ganapathi.

Carrying the Al Boum Photo colours of owner Joe Donnelly, the 2-5 favourite followed up a win on the Flat in his homeland with a near two-length verdict.

Townend said: “I’d say he’ll come on plenty for it, he jumped very very well but missed the last.

“It is very testing and with the one (Howdyalikemenow) going off in front it made it a true run race. We went our own gallop in behind and he kept up the gallop and I think he’ll improve for it.”

The champion trainer and jockey went on to complete a treble on the card, with Yukon Lil justifying even-money favouritism in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Beginners Chase.

Mullins also saddled a winner at Navan in Blackbow.

“She’s was very good. I galloped into the first a little bit but she was awesome after that,” Townend added.

“I suppose she didn’t get a good run at last season as it was cut short, but she’s a smart mare and she’ll do well in those mares’ chases.”

Dromore Lad springs shock in Cork National

Dromore Lad caused an upset when winning for the first time over fences in the Paddy Power Cork Grand National Handicap Chase.

Trained by John Ryan, the eight-year-old had not won a race of any description since January 2018 in his days with Dermot McLoughlin.

Having run well on his first outing over fences for Ryan when second at Ballinrobe, he was well beaten last time out at Galway just last weekend – so it was no surprise he went off at 40-1.

Sean O’Keeffe, who loses his claim as a result of the win, was always travelling smoothly on the outsider – and a big leap at the last sent him clear to beat Rocky’s Silver by nine lengths.

Ryan said: “I love that little horse – he is a cracker and is so tough.

“He had a lovely mark and he is just a dour, dour stayer. He wants four miles, goes on heavy, is by Flemensfirth and is as tough as nails.

“There is a three-mile-five handicap chase now, and he could also go for the Welsh National over Christmas.

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“I’m delighted for Frank Reynolds (owner) – who has had a lot of winners, but that is his first big winner.

“That’s Sean’s first National winner, and he has also ridden out his claim with that win. It’s a grand way to lose his claim!”

Earlier, Joseph O’Brien’s Home By The Sea (13-2) stayed on powerfully to win the Grade Three Paddy Power From The Horses Mouth Podcast EBF Novice Chase.

Having looked beaten when outpaced between the third and second last, JJ Slevin galvanised him to beat Ryan’s Waitnsee by a length and three-quarters.

Slevin said: “It was a big ask, having had just one run over fences, and he jumped fairly well but got under one or two. He stays very well and is a lovely horse.

“I needed a good jump at the last but didn’t get a wonderful jump, but he managed to get away from it well and plugged on to the line.”

Darrens Hope (5-2) provided trainer Robert Murphy with his biggest win in the Listed Paddy’s Rewards Club EBF Novice Hurdle.

The mare made all under Paul Townend to beat Gordon Elliott’s Ragnar Lodbrok

“She won very well and is an exciting mare to have,” said Murphy.

“This race came up sooner than we wanted, and it was only two weeks since she ran. We didn’t want to run her so soon.

“She is a great mare to stay, and the farther she goes the better she’d like it.

“We might go for a beginners’, because chasing will be her game, but there might be another novice race for her. We’ll see what happens, and I’ll see what the jockey says.

“This is my biggest win.”

The prolific Dreal Deal yet again cruised to victory, this time in the WhatOddsPaddy Handicap Hurdle.

Successful just four days ago under a confident Maxine O’Sullivan, this time she kicked for home a little earlier and Ronan McNally’s star won like a 1-5 favourite should.

McNally said: “I wouldn’t rule out running him in a Grade One at Christmas, but I want to give him a break now, and he is going for six weeks’ rest. He is in a Pertemps Qualifier at Newbury on Thursday, but we won’t go.

“I haven’t made a secret that I’d love to see JP McManus come on board the yard, and a horse like him would be ideal. To train for JP McManus would be a dream – and if the right money and the right owner came along, I’d consider selling him to stay in the yard.”

Listed honours for Keats at Cork

Aidan O’Brien’s Keats proved suited by the drop back to a mile as he took the Listed Navigation Stakes at Cork.

By Galileo out of the extremely fast sprinter Airwave, the three-year-old has spent most of this season running over trips around 10 furlongs.

He had won twice already in this campaign, though, which has been busy, and both of those were over a mile.

Having suggested he was up to winning a race of this level last time out when second to Lady Wannabe at Listowel a week ago, Keats was sent off the 5-2 favourite.

Perfectly positioned throughout by Seamie Heffernan, the market leader took a lead into the straight off Jessica Harrington’s Free Solo and without coming under too much pressure hit the front.

Keats only had to be kept up to his work to beat Free Solo by a length and a quarter, with Fame And Acclaim third.

“I thought he was unlucky last week, but he handles all types of grounds and I wasn’t surprised he won,” said Heffernan

“He felt like there was more to come from him and he is still unexposed and still babyish. Listen, he has won a Listed race today and he ran very well a few days ago so he is hardy and is up for it now, so I’m happy.”