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Pearls Galore picks up Brownstown prize

Pearls Galore set up a top-level target in running out a ready winner of the Group Three Irish Stallion Farms EBF Brownstown Stakes at Fairyhouse for Billy Lee and Paddy Twomey.

The four-year-old started her campaign with a third-placed finish in the Ballycorus Stakes, run at the same grade and over the same seven-furlong trip at Leopardstown, and was subsequently at the head of the market as 15-8 favourite.

Galloping into contention two furlongs from home, the filly locked horns with Jessica Harrington’s Valeria Messalina before pulling away as the post approached to cross the line two lengths ahead of the latter horse.

“She’s a very well-bred filly and this race has been the plan all year as I wanted to make her a Group winner,” said Twomey.

“I have her in the Matron (Stakes, Leopardstown) and I’d say that will probably be the plan.

“Good ground or better is essential for her and she won’t show up otherwise.

“I made that mistake last year and even running on the all-weather her foot goes in too far, she just likes to ping off the top of it.

“Barring the day I ran her on the all-weather she’s never put a foot wrong.

“There’s not a lot of her there, she’s not very big.

“I’d say it’s unlikely she would run again before the Matron.”

Aintree hero Rachael Blackmore on the mark at Fairyhouse

Grand National victor Rachael Blackmore was back among the winners at Fairyhouse on Tuesday as she steered Somptueux to glory for Henry de Bromhead.

Blackmore created history on Saturday when steering the De Bromhead-trained Minella Times to victory at Aintree, becoming the first female rider to win the four-and-a-quarter-mile marathon in its long history.

The rider was once again seen to good effect aboard Somptueux in the Follow Fairyhouse On Social Media Rated Novice Chase, with Blackmore getting the 5-1 shot home in front, beating Samurai Cracker by two lengths after a battle from the last.

Blackmore said: “We didn’t go much of a gallop and he was a bit in my hands early on.

“It was a lovely first run back after a break and hopefully he’ll progress now.

“He was let off for the winter ground and hopefully now we’ll have a good summer – it started off well anyway.”

Fairyhouse manager Peter Roe made a special presentation to Blackmore in recognition of her National win and reflecting on Saturday’s headline-grabbing performance, she added: “It’s hard to even comprehend it all.”

Somptueux’s victory means Blackmore is now nine winners adrift of the currently-sidelined Paul Townend in the race for the Irish jockeys’ title.

Freewheelin Dylan storms to Irish National glory at 150-1

Freewheelin Dylan caused a seismic shock with a 150-1 victory in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse.

Dermot McLoughlin’s charge was widely unconsidered for the €400,000 showpiece on what was his first appearance since finishing last of eight runners at Punchestown in October.

However, ridden brilliantly by Ricky Doyle, the nine-year-old was in front after jumping the first fence and was never headed.

Thyestes Chaser runner-up Run Wild Fred looked a big danger rounding the home turn, but could never quite get on terms with Freewheelin Dylan, who galloped all the way to the line for a one-and-a-quarter-length win.

Run Wild Fred was a clear second, with Enjoy D’allen third and 9-2 favourite Latest Exhibition a creditable fourth under the welter burden of 11st 10lb.

McLoughlin said: “It’s great – it went to plan. I said to Ricky ‘he likes to bowl along in front and jumping is his forte, so use him up’.

“I was a bit concerned about not getting a run into him. I said turning into the straight that we’d better start shouting, because I knew he’d stay going.”

Dermot McLoughlin (right) with Freewheelin Dylan at Fairyhouse
Dermot McLoughlin (right) with Freewheelin Dylan at Fairyhouse (Niall Carson/PA)

He added: “It’s a race I always wanted to have runners in, let alone try to win it. My father (Liam McLoughlin) rode the winner in 1962 (Kerforo), so I was always trying to follow.

“We’re based three miles down the road and we’ll keep progressing the best we can.

“I was 47 the other day. We have good help and good staff and we have some nice horses.

“Coming here I thought we had a good chance and thankfully it’s worked out.”

Jockey Ricky Doyle after his Irish Grand National win
Jockey Ricky Doyle after his Irish Grand National win (Niall Carson/PA)

Doyle told ITV Racing: “I could not believe it – I thought everything was too good to be true! His jumping is just out of this world, but how well he travelled and the rhythm he was in (was unbelievable).

“Turning in I could feel horses on me and I could feel him picking up. I was trying to do the maths in my head and was thinking ‘did I jump the last the first time’? I was in a dream the whole way.

“He’s a proper summer ground horse. I won a Midlands National on him in the same way. I was just so happy with everything that I couldn’t believe it.

“This means everything to me. I love this sport and I love horses – I couldn’t care if there was nothing to the winner.

“I’m over the moon.”

Easy Game delivers in Devenish Chase

Easy Game got back on the winning trail with a determined display in the Devenish Chase at Fairyhouse.

The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old had been a little disappointing since landing the PWC Champion Chase at Gowran Park in October – most recently unseating his rider at Thurles in January.

With likely favourite Fakir D’oudairies a significant non-runner, Easy Game was the 11-8 market leader for his latest Grade Two test, with Brian Hayes taking over in the saddle from the sidelined Paul Townend.

Having jumped with zest and travelled powerfully on the heels of the leaders, the French-bred gelding moved to the lead early in the home straight, with Castlegrace Paddy emerging as his biggest threat.

Easy Game returns to the winner's enclosure
Easy Game returns to the winner’s enclosure (Gary Carson/PA)

There was not much to choose between the pair approaching the final obstacle, but it was Easy Game who jumped it the better and that may well have proved crucial, with just three-quarters of a length separating the pair at the line.

Mullins said: “He really appreciated the nicer ground today. Brian said the last day in Thurles he was getting stuck in the ground, but today he was jumping so well and he was really happy with him.

“Brian is a great chase jockey and this was a nice spare for him. He gives horses great confidence.

“The horse looked beaten going to the last, but Brian pulled him together for one jump and it paid off for him.

“I’d imagine he’ll go to Punchestown.”

Jeff Kidder follows up Cheltenham success with Fairyhouse victory

Cheltenham Festival hero Jeff Kidder followed up in the Rathbarry And Glenview Studs Juvenile Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

A winner over the course and distance earlier in the campaign, Noel Meade’s charge was last seen springing an 80-1 surprise in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle in the Cotswolds last month.

Despite that big-race triumph, Jeff Kidder was second-best in the market for this Grade Two contest at 5-1, with the previously unbeaten Teahupoo all the rage as the 4-7 market leader.

It turned into a straight shootout between the two from early in the home straight – and while Teahupoo loomed up looking a big threat, Jeff Kidder already looked to be getting the better of the argument when the odds-on shot produced an untidy leap at the final flight.

Jeff Kidder returns to the Fairyhouse winner's enclosure
Jeff Kidder returns to the Fairyhouse winner’s enclosure (Gary Carson/PA)

In the end Sean Flanagan’s mount prove his Cheltenham success was no fluke with a decisive three-length verdict.

“He’s improving all the time,” said Meade.

“We gave him a little break after he ran in the Grade Two in Leopardstown at Christmas and I was actually worried if I’d left him off too long, but obviously it was perfect. We just let him in and out and let him enjoy himself.

“If he ever learns how to jump the whole lot of them he’ll be grand – he only jumped half of them.

“I’d say he was very weak last year and is starting to get a bit stronger.”

On future plans, he added: “If he never does any more he’s done a lot, but hopefully he will do more.

“I can’t see any reason why he won’t run in Punchestown now in the Grade One and the plan was to run on the Flat during the summer. Colin (Keane) said to me last year ‘when you get him over two miles, he’ll win a Cesarewitch for you’.

“Off 68 he should be able to win a Flat race somewhere, you’d imagine.”

Stormy Ireland made a successful second debut for Willie Mullins in the Grade Two Underwriting Exchange Hurdle.

The Motivator mare won six times during her first stint with the Closutton handler, before being moved to Paul Nicholls’ yard along with the rest of owner Jared Sullivan’s Irish-based string.

Stormy Ireland wins on her first start for new owners
Stormy Ireland wins on her first start for new owners (Niall Carson/PA)

She failed to win in four starts in Britain, but having since been sold to new owners for £75,000, she was a 7-2 chance on her first start since returning to the Mullins yard.

Sent straight to the lead by the trainer’s nephew Danny Mullins, Stormy Ireland set a sound gallop from flag-fall and had enough in the tank to hold off 85-40 favourite French Dynamite by a length and a quarter.

Mullins said: “She’s getting her style of racing back and I think Danny suited her great.

“She was bought to breed from, but her owners said we’d discuss after a run or two whether we breed from her this year or not and I think we’ll probably keep her to race and maybe breed next year.

“She could go to Punchestown if there’s a race for her – maybe the Mares (Champion Hurdle). We’ll probably go over fences when the new season comes around.

“We were very happy when we got her back – she was in good shape.”

Trainer Karl Thornton and jockey Donagh Meyler combined to land the Farmhouse Foods Novice Handicap Hurdle with 11-2 favourite Shanroe.

“He’ll go back on the Flat now and we’ll target premier handicaps with him,” said Thornton.

“He’s an odd horse, but his work is always very good. I said I’d run him over hurdles today and leave him then coming into the Flat season.

Shanroe won the Easter Monday opener at Fairyhouse
Shanroe won the Easter Monday opener at Fairyhouse (Niall Carson/PA)

“Off 97 I still think he’s well handicapped on the Flat. We’ll target Ascot and a few of those two-mile races.”

The Francis Casey-trained Max Flamingo (4-1) benefited from a well-judged ride from Denis O’Regan when winning the Fairyhouse Steel Handicap Hurdle.

Casey said: “He showed a lot of inexperience there, but it worked out right and he loves the better ground.

“I think he’s going to be a chaser some day and I’d love to be back here next year for a big one.”

Bargain-buy Skyace in line for Punchestown

The Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown could be next on the agenda for Skyace following her popular success at Fairyhouse on Sunday.

Bought for the bargain-basement price of £600 after placing in three bumper starts for Willie Mullins, the six-year-old completed her fairytale rise by providing trainer Shark Hanlon with a first Grade One success in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle.

Hanlon reported his stable star to be none the worse on Easter Monday as he reflected on his accomplishment.

“It was a great day. To have my first Grade One winner on Easter Sunday was a dream,” said the Bagenalstown-based trainer.

Trainer Shark Hanlon was thrilled with Skyace's victory
Trainer Shark Hanlon was thrilled with Skyace’s victory (Niall Carson/PA)

“I think I’ve had seven Grade Ones seconds, so I suppose we were entitled to one. There’s a great buzz around the yard this morning among all the lads – that’s what keeps the whole thing going.

“I think it’s great for racing as it shows you pick up a horse for small money and you can go and have a bit of fun. Hopefully it gets more people into racing.

“I love the owners that I have, but I could just do with one or two big owners in the yard. Hopefully this result helps.”

Hanlon was not short of confidence in Skyace prior to the Fairyhouse assignment – and is eyeing further top-level honours on the final day of the National Hunt season at Punchestown on May 1.

Some of her owners enjoyed celebrating her latest triumph in Dubai.

Hanlon added: “I might have been a bit bold with the comment I came out with on Saturday, saying I thought she was a certainty, but you have to put your head on the block at some stage!

“She’s such a tough mare. She came home and stuck her head in the pot last night and you wouldn’t even know she’d had a race.

“I’d find it hard to run her against the geldings at Punchestown, but I was thinking about it last night and if Honeysuckle goes for the Champion Hurdle in Punchestown, we might go for the two-and-a-half-mile mares’ race. I don’t want to take on Honeysuckle, though.

“Our mare got a break before Cheltenham and after Punchestown there is very little for her, so if she went to Punchestown, she could have a couple of months off again.

“I think she’ll be a right mare for Cheltenham next year – for the Mares’ Hurdle.”

Jody McGarvey clinches Grade One double with victory on Janidil

Jody McGarvey enjoyed a dream Easter Sunday as he completed a Grade One double aboard Janidil in the Underwriting Exchange Gold Cup Novice Chase at Fairyhouse.

Having earlier struck aboard Skyace in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final, McGarvey teamed up with Janidil, the outsider of three runners for Willie Mullins in the two-and-a-half-mile contest.

However, Janidil proved by far the best as a 12-1 shot, leading home his stablemates in a clean sweep for the Closutton handler.

Jody McGarvey celebrates after his Grade One double
Jody McGarvey celebrates after his Grade One double (Niall Carson/PA)

Asterion Forlonge was partnered by Patrick Mullins after intended rider Paul Townend suffered a fall earlier on the card, and he was prominent throughout, racing on the heels of pacesetting Conflated with main market rival Andy Dufresne alongside.

The writing was on the wall for that runner some way out though, and it looked as though Asterion Forlonge was going to triumph as he hit the front with three to jump.

However, he found little for pressure approaching the penultimate obstacle, while Janidil was staying on for McGarvey, taking it up after jumping that fence and fairly sprinting home by four and a quarter lengths from the fast-finishing Franco De Port. Asterion Forlonge plugged on for third.

“He took a heavy fall the last day, but he seems to have learned a lot from it,” said McGarvey.

“He has all the scope in the world, but when he gets in he wants a bit of help.

“I had a good chat with Mark Walsh before and in fairness it paid off. He never missed a beat.

“I was jumping up on their heels everywhere and even turning in I was always happy.

“I jumped two out that well, and I was going well, and I said I’d stay going well. Lucky enough he put it to bed there.

“He never really stays straight that horse (Asterion Forlonge). I was trying to keep away from him. I switched in, and I ended up having to switch out again, but when I jumped past him at the second last, it was over and done with then.

“It’s absolutely unbelievable. Week in and week out when you’re working hard you want to be at these meetings and to ride in these races.

“To go and win two Grade Ones in a day – I’ve only ever ridden one Grade One (winner) in my whole career – and now I’m after riding two in one day, it’s unbelievable.

“Big thanks to Frank (Berry, racing manager) and JP (McManus, owner) for letting me step in to have these rides, I’m just very very grateful. I’m just happy to be here.

“They (opportunities) don’t come along too often and you have to take them with both hands. You don’t know where the next one is going to come from. I’ll make the most of this and keep kicking onward and upwards for the next day.”

McGarvey is looking forward to partnering the Philip Hobbs-trained Jerrysback for McManus in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National on Monday.

“I ride Jerrysback for Philip Hobbs in the National. He looks like he’ll really relish the trip and he has loads of experience,” he said.

“I just hope the ground doesn’t dry out too much, but other than that I’m looking forward to riding him.”

Willie Mullins celebrates with the trophy after Janidil's victory
Willie Mullins celebrates with the trophy after Janidil’s victory (Niall Carson/PA)

Mullins said: “I felt he deserved his chance to come here as he didn’t go to Cheltenham, but I thought it would be tough for him with the horses he was up against.

“He likes this track and won a big handicap hurdle here.

“It’s great for Jody to ride a Grade One double and I’m delighted for all connections.

“He’s a horse we always thought a bit of, but has disappointed a bit on his last few runs. Jody felt that when he got him jumping today, he was in his comfort zone from after halfway.

“I’d be keen to go to Punchestown, although I don’t think we’ll be going for the novice handicap with him!”

Mullins felt Asterion Forlonge might not have enjoyed racing so prominently.

He added: “Asterion Forlonge’s jumping is improving, but I was disappointed that he cut out so tamely. He cut out a lot of the running and maybe we made too much use of him.”

Mullins has five-strong team going for Irish National honours

Willie Mullins has five runners as he attempts to win the BoyleSports Grand National at Fairyhouse for just a second time after Burrows Saint in 2019.

Mullins ended his hoodoo in style when saddling the first three home when the race was last run as it was cancelled due to the pandemic last year.

He will be hoping for a similar result again in the Easter Monday feature with the Closutton handler represented by Brahma Bull, Salsaretta, Agusta Gold, Dragon D’Estruval and Robin De Carlow, while Burrows Saint is a leading fancy for the Randox Grand National at Aintree on Saturday.

His assistant David Casey gave the latest on the stable’s quintet.

“The better ground will help Brahma Bull. He was pulled up in the Thyestes on heavy ground, but he will be better on the drier ground,” he said.

Willie Mullins has five runners in the Irish Grand National
Willie Mullins has five runners in the Irish Grand National (Niall Carson/PA)

“Salsaretta ran well in Cheltenham. Hopefully that won’t have too much of an effect on her. It was a tough race, but the step up in trip with suit.

“Agusta Gold is new to the yard so we are still learning about her. She has some decent form in the book. The trip won’t be an issue. She goes there with a chance.

“Dragon D’Estruval has been hunter chasing. The trip will suit and hopefully he can be competitive.

“Robin De Carlow hasn’t run for a long time, but has some very good form in the book. She might need the race after such a long break, but she has been working and schooling well so hopefully she can run a good race.”

Peter Fahey is hoping conditions are not too quick for The Big Dog, who is due to line up after claiming a game success in the Grand National Trial at Punchestown in February.

Top amateur Jamie Codd was in the saddle that day and the pair will maintain their association at Fairyhouse, as long as conditions will suit.

Jamie Codd rides The Big Dog for trainer Peter Fahey
Jamie Codd rides The Big Dog for trainer Peter Fahey (Niall Carson/PA)

Fahey said: “He’s in good nick. It’s a very competitive race, but hopefully the ground isn’t too quick. We’re going to walk the track and see how things are.

“He’s in very good form and it’s great the weights went up so Jamie is more comfortable doing the weight on him.

“Fingers crossed he can put in a big run for the owners.”

Joseph O’Brien is surprised Sempo is prominent in the betting as he is short on experience.

The Joseph O'Brien-trained Sempo is prominent in the betting for the Irish Grand National
The Joseph O’Brien-trained Sempo is prominent in the betting for the Irish Grand National (PA)

“In my opinion people might be getting a little carried away as he’s completed three of his five chase runs and now he jumps into an Irish National. I think it’s a bigger ask than what is being said.” he told Betfair.

“It’s a different ball game, he was relatively lightly-raced over hurdles as well. Experience-wise I think it’s a big ask, but there’s no doubt he’s a talented horse and he’s proved that in the past.”

O’Brien expects his other runner, Home By The Lee, to put up a good show.

“We’re looking forward to Home By The Lee as well, who has a little bit more experience but is still a novice,” he added.

“He wears a hood in his training as he can be a handful, but he stays very well.”

Ciaran Murphy has always felt Enjoy D’Allen might develop into an Irish National contender.

“The first time we ran him, we thought he had the profile for a race like this if he kept progressing and he did,” said the Mullingar handler.

“We’ve had a dream run with him up to his last prep run which was three weeks to the day of the National, which is absolutely perfect.

“He does tick the boxes. I’m not saying he’s going to go and win, but the last day in Naas if he hadn’t fluffed his lines at the last, he galloped on through the line and we know he wants a little further than three miles.”

Trainer Noel Meade saddles Brace Yourself and Eurobot in the Irish Grand National
Trainer Noel Meade saddles Brace Yourself and Eurobot in the Irish Grand National (Nial Carson/PA)

Noel Meade revealed he has had this race in kind for Brace Yourself for some time.

“We’re happy he got in. It has been his target for a while. He had a good run over the trip at the end of last year,” he said.

“We possibly could have run him again, but he had a setback and he’s come out of it well. We’re very happy with his progress and very happy with the work he’s done, so we’re expecting a good run.

“Eurobot also got in and I think he’ll like the better ground.”

Skyace hits Grade One heights at Fairyhouse

Bargain-buy Skyace claimed Grade One glory in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final at Fairyhouse.

Despite placing in three bumpers for Willie Mullins, the six-year-old changed hands for just £600 in November 2019 and has proved an extremely shrewd acquisition by trainer Shark Hanlon.

Following wins at Grade Three and Listed level, the six-year-old finished fourth in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last month – and was a 4-1 joint-favourite for her latest big-race assignment.

Skyace travelled strongly on the heels of the leaders for much of the way, but after taking over the lead early in the home straight, she looked at the mercy of the strong-travelling Gauloise between the final two flights.

However, Jody McGarvey’s mount refused to bend and managed to hold off the Mullins-trained runner by half a length.

Hanlon, saddling the first Grade One winner of his career, said: “It’s great – she’s as tough as nails.

“She came home from Cheltenham and I said she was better coming out of it than she was before she went.

“I was afraid of the mares that hadn’t ran in Cheltenham more than the ones that had. I just felt she’s in great form, she’s tough and it’s great to have one like her.

“Everyone wants to have one Grade One winner and for me to have one is great.

“I think it’s great for racing as it shows you can get a small-priced filly and get a syndicate together and go and have fun.

“It’s great for the lads that own her. There’s a hundred of them sitting down today in Dubai for a meal – they did the same at Cheltenham – and there’ll be a few roars.

“I honestly thought she couldn’t get beat today.”

Skyace and Gauloise in action at Fairyhouse
Skyace and Gauloise in action at Fairyhouse (Niall Carson/PA)

McGarvey added: “It’s pure fairytale. Every time she kept winning, nobody could believe it and everybody kept underestimating her.

“Shark gave her a break at the right time and she’s thrived for it. She’s turned into a brilliant racemare.

“Even when she won in Punchestown (in December), I said after it ‘what’s she got to do for everyone to believe how good she is’?

“She’s come here today and she’s proved that she is that good.”

Echoes In Rain impresses with Fairyhouse victory

Echoes In Rain scooted to a wide-margin victory in the Paddy Kehoe Suspended Ceilings Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

The Willie Mullins-trained mare was bidding for her second successive victory at Grade Two level following a comprehensive display at Naas last month and could hardly have been more impressive in the hands of Paul Townend.

Anchored at the rear of the field for much of the two-mile journey, the keen-going five-year-old made ground to move onto the heels of the leaders before the home turn.

While her rivals were hard at work, Echoes In Rain was still full of running early in the straight under a motionless Townend – and once given her head, she readily pulled 15 lengths clear.

Mullins, winning the race for a seventh time from the last eight runnings, also saddled the runner-up M C Muldoon.

He said: “She’s got plenty of talent, but she just needs to settle. She’s settling and learning all the time.

“We didn’t want to bring her to Cheltenham for the Mares’ Hurdle because I thought she might boil over.

“In better races you can settle her in behind a bit more.

“She’s improving all the time, so we’ll go on to Punchestown now.”

Ashdale Bob jumps the final flight in front at Fairyhouse
Ashdale Bob jumps the final flight in front at Fairyhouse (Niall Carson/PA)

There was a far tighter finish to the other Grade Two on the card – the Colm Quinn BMW Novice Hurdle.

With 4-5 favourite Gentlemansgame a little disappointing in third, it was left to Jessica Harrington’s 10-1 shot Ashdale Bob and 12-1 chance Decimation to fight out a thrilling finish.

No quarter was given by either horse or jockey, but it was Ashdale Bob who edged a neck ahead at the line under Robbie Power.

Townend taken to hospital for a precautionary X-ray on his foot after fall from Egality Mans.

Kate Harrington, assistant to her mother, said: “We’re delighted with that. Robert said it was pure class that got him through it.

“He’s grown a lot since Christmas and is only starting to fill his frame. He’s going to be a lovely horse for next season.

“We’ll have a chat to mum and the owners, but I imagine we’ll probably leave him at that for this season – he could be a very exciting horse going over a fence next year.”

Harrington and Power doubled up with Jungle Junction in the following BoyleSports Novice Handicap Chase, while El Barra (5-4 favourite) had earlier won the Ryan’s Cleaning, Waste And Recycling Maiden Hurdle for the Mullins-Townend combination.

El Barra delighted favourite backers in the opening race
El Barra delighted favourite backers in the opening race (Niall Carson/PA)

The champion trainer’s assistant, David Casey, said: “The ground was nice for him and he was able to dictate in front

“He ran a bit keen in Leopardstown and disappointed, and probably the same a little bit in Naas.

“We dropped him back to two miles in Navan and he ran well. He’s putting it together.

“I’d imagine he’ll be over fences next season.”

Wild Shot finished fourth in the race, but was banned from running for 60 days and his rider Dylan Browne suspended for 21 days after the stewards ruled he had not gained the best possible placing at a subsequent inquiry.

Dark Raven was an impressive winner
Dark Raven was an impressive winner (Niall Carson/PA)

Following the success of Janidil in the Underwriting Exchange Gold Cup Novice Chase, Dark Raven made it four on the day for the Mullins team with victory in the closing Tattersalls Ireland George Mernagh Memorial Sales Bumper.

Sent off the 4-7 favourite, he hacked up by 11 lengths in the hands of Patrick Mullins.

Nolan looking to Latest to rise to National challenge

Latest Exhibition bids to overcome his relative inexperience as well as defy top weight in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Monday.

The Paul Nolan-trained novice has had just four races over fences, but he has shown plenty of potential, especially when runner-up to Monkfish in two Grade One races.

Connections decided not to take on Monkfish again at Cheltenham last month, having suffered defeat in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle last year.

“I just hope we have made the right decision in missing Cheltenham,” said Nolan.

“You can’t be afraid of one horse, but we’ve run against Monkfish three times and he’s beaten us three times.

“We just thought with the time frame, this race suited us better than Cheltenham. We had it in our minds early on the Irish National – provided he got what we thought was a favourable mark – would be his target.

“At the end of the day he’d be one of the most inexperienced horses in the field. The biggest field he’s run in was the Albert Bartlett last year. Other than that it has been relatively small fields. Of course that is a worry.

“There’s a lot of worries, but there is no point harbouring on them. When you run for prize money like this, you’re going to expect big fields and you’re going to have worries, but once the jockey is on his back and the race starts, there is nothing you can do and there is no point in worrying.

“Ideally it would have been great if Tiger Roll had stayed in, but that’s the way it is. He’s got top weight for a reason.”

Nolan reports his stable star to be in tip-top shape and expects him to stay the three miles and five furlongs.

“We couldn’t be happier with the horse. We’re just hoping we get a bit of luck in running and he comes home safe,” the County Wexford trainer went on.

“I think he will get the trip, but you never know until you go over it. I’m hoping if his jumping is good enough, I’d be surprised if the trip is a problem and the ground will be beautiful.”

Fitzhenry (right) is trainer Paul Nolan's second string in the Irish Grand National
Fitzhenry (right) is trainer Paul Nolan’s second string in the Irish Grand National (PA)

Nolan believes his other runner, Fitzhenry, could surprise a few people and run a decent race.

“He’s in good form. He had a very nice run the last day. We rode him a bit different and it seemed to work,” he said.

“I thought he galloped to the line very well. He’s got a nice weight, he’s got a good man (Darragh O’Keeffe) on his back, hopefully he runs a respectable race and he certainly has an each-way chance in my book.”

Festival hero Jeff Kidder shoots for Fairyhouse glory

Cheltenham Festival hero Jeff Kidder bids to follow up in the Rathbarry & Glenview Studs Juvenile Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

The four-year-old ran out an authoritative winner of the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle in the Cotswolds last month and trainer Noel Meade is looking forward to testing his powers at Grade Two level on Easter Monday.

He said: “He came out of Cheltenham really well and actually was a kilo heavier on Friday than he was going to Cheltenham.

“He’s fresh as a daisy so we decided we’d let him take his chance, because once you get past Punchestown, he’s into the big world then.”

Jeff Kidder’s biggest threat appears to be the Denise Foster-trained Teahupoo, who is unbeaten in three starts and is already a dual winner over the course and distance.

“Denise’s horse is probably a fair horse. Hopefully he mightn’t be as good on the better ground, but I’d say he’ll be hard to beat,” Meade added.

The Tu Va handler also has a major contender for the second Grade Two on the card in Beacon Edge.

The Doyen gelding steps back in distance for the two-and-a-half-mile Underwriting Exchange Hurdle after finishing a creditable fourth in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Meade said: “I said we’d declare him and have a look. He had a hard race in Cheltenham, but Sean (Flanagan) cantered him on Saturday morning and was very happy.”

If Beacon Edge does take his chance, he will be taking on rivals that include the Mouse Morris-trained French Dynamite, Foster’s Pertemps Final runner-up The Bosses Oscar, Scarpeta and Stormy Ireland from the Willie Mullins stable.

Scarpeta was fourth to Beacon Edge in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan on his latest start, while Stormy Ireland has her first race since returning to the Closutton handler since having a spell with Paul Nicholls at Ditcheat.

“Scarpeta has a little bit to find on ratings, but he’s in good form. Hopefully, he’ll run well,” said Mullins’ assistant David Casey.

“Stormy Ireland is back with us after being away in England. She’s coming back from a break. She is in good form and worked very well during the week. Hopefully, she’ll run well.”

Grade Two honours are also up for grabs in the Devenish Chase, for which Fakir D’oudairies will be a hot favourite.

Joseph O’Brien’s charge would not be winning out of turn, having filled the runner-up spot on three of his four starts this season – most recently in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.

Mullins is again two-handed with Easy Game and Annamix, who should both appreciate the spring ground.

“Easy Game has been crying out for a bit of nicer ground. It should suit him,” said Casey.

“Annamix won his beginners’ chase round Fairyhouse and going back there on nicer ground will help him.”

Battleoverdoyen (Foster) and Castlegrace Paddy (Pat Fahy) are also in the mix.

Hearts Are Trumps holds sway as McManus dominates big handicap

Hearts Are Trumps led home a JP McManus one-two in the RYBO Handicap Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

The feature handicap, the most valuable race on day one of the Easter Festival, was dominated by McManus’s famous green-and-gold silks.

Hearts Are Trumps, ridden by Jody McGarvey for trainer Des McDonogh, collared Magic Tricks after the last to win by half-a-length at 12-1.

The spring ground clearly suited the eight-year-old, who was a long-priced runner-up in the Galway Hurdle last July and running here for only the second time after a winter break.

“He deserved that. He’s a smashing horse,” said McDonogh.

“He’s very professional and jumped great. You can see the muck on his heels there – and he’d even like it better.

“The ground made a huge difference today. He even went to Listowel after Galway last year and he was beaten in the straight.”

The Galway Hurdle is again on the agenda this summer, and McDonogh added: “He might have a run on the Flat.

“He ran well in a maiden at Thurles when he was fourth. We could look at a mile-and-a-half, and he could even go two miles on the Flat.

“If he arrives in Galway in the same form as that, it’ll do.”

Willie Mullins’ Lady Breffni (8-1) had earlier prevailed in a blanket finish to the I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Novice Handicap Hurdle Series Final under Danny Mullins.

“I think the ground was a big help to her, because she just wasn’t getting home on winter ground,” said the winning trainer.

“I’m very happy for her owner Mark Dobbin.

Lady Breffni (dark green) arrives late on the scene
Lady Breffni (dark green) arrives late on the scene (Brian Lawless/PA)

“Danny gave her a great ride. He found himself a little further out than he wanted and he kept it all for one long run down the outside – which was fantastic, rather than trying to get mixed up with the other horses.

“I was very happy for him.”

Liz Lalor was a late call-up by Noel Meade for Ificudiwud (14-1) in the McCauley Pharmacy Ladies National Handicap Chase – but it worked a treat.

Meade said: “It was a close call, because I said to Eddie (O’Leary, of owners Gigginstown House Stud) at 9.50am that I couldn’t get anyone to ride him and we’d be better not running him.

“Suddenly it dawned on me to try Liz, who had ridden in a few bumpers for me. She said she was supposed to be riding for Colin Motherway and only rang back at 9.57am to say she could ride.

Ificudiwud comes clear under Liz Lalor
Ificudiwud comes clear under Liz Lalor (Brian Lawless/PA)

“He was fresh and he jumped great for her. He’s a funny horse – because he doesn’t like it fast and doesn’t like it soft.

“She said even when he went into a softish patch she could feel him coming back underneath her.

“He’s had an easy time because the ground was heavy, and it worked out well.”

Party Central (6-4 favourite) won the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Total Enjoyment Mares Flat Race, for Denise Foster and Jamie Codd.

Gentlemansgame seeks to regain winning form

Gentlemansgame drops back in trip in a bid to return to winning ways in the Grade Two Colm Quinn BMW Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

The strapping grey was a three-mile point-to-point winner but impressed on his hurdling debut over just two at Cork in January when he bolted up by 21 lengths in a 17-runner maiden event.

Trainer Mouse Morris stepped the five-year-old up to two and three-quarter miles for a Grade One at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival in February.

Gentlemansgame did not disappoint as he took second place behind Gaillard Du Mesnil. The winner and the third home that day, Stattler, franked the form with placed efforts at the Cheltenham Festival.

Morris said: “He ran well in Leopardstown. It’s turned out to be a very good race, so I’d be hopeful for a good run.

“There’s a bit of a question mark about the trip, but we’ll find out on Sunday.”

The County Tipperary trainer also runs Get My Drift, who got off the mark over two miles in a maiden at Leopardstown on his third start over hurdles.

“He won a nice race at Leopardstown,” he said.

“Hopefully there’s more improvement to come from both of them.”

Willie Mullins has a powerful team of four – Egality Mans, Frere Tuck, Power Of Pause and Rambranlt’jac – in the 10-strong field.

Noel Meade believes bypassing Cheltenham with Thedevilscoachman will prove a benefit when the J P McManus-owned gelding goes for Grade Two honours in the Paddy Kehoe Suspended Ceilings Novice Hurdle.

“We’re happy with him,” said Meade.

“He missed Cheltenham, so he’s fresh, and we’re happy to go there – and hopefully he has a good fighting chance.”

Thedevilscoachman is on a hat-trick after wins at Navan and Punchestown, where he took a Listed contest.

Joseph O’Brien is hoping Desir Du Large is over the problems which have restricted him to just one race since December 2018.

The eight-year-old made an encouraging return following 820 days off the track when third to Echoes In Rain in a Grade Two at Naas.

“Desir Du Large has always been a promising horse, but he hasn’t been straightforward to train,” the County Kilkenny handler told Betfair.

“He returned from a long absence to run very well in a Grade Two novice hurdle at Naas last time, and the hope is that he’ll improve from that.”

Echoes In Rain is one of three runners from the Mullins stable  in the nine-horse line-up – along with Grand Bornand and M C Muldoon.

Elimay digs deep for Fairyhouse victory

Elimay got back to winning ways for Willie Mullins in the Download The BoyleSports App Mares Chase at Fairyhouse.

Running just 15 days after her ding-dong Cheltenham Festival battle with stablemate Colreevy, in which she came off marginally second best, Elimay landed 8-15 favouritism in gritty fashion.

This Listed race was billed as almost a match with Cheltenham winner Mount Ida, who put up a remarkable display there – having been almost tailed off early before winning the Kim Muir only easily.

However, Denise Foster’s mare was coming back in trip here and was crucially outpaced with three furlongs to run before staying on again close home to finish third.

Elimay took up the running from Abbey Magic at the second last but could not fully shake off 50-1 shot Demi Plie, owned like her by JP McManus.

Mark Walsh had to ride Elimay out strongly after the last and, conceding upwards of 6lb to her rivals, won by a length-and-a-quarter.

“It was hard work, and she might have been feeling the effects of Cheltenham, but she got the job done anyway – so that was nice,” said Mullins.

“We’ll have a look at Punchestown, but I think she’s probably done enough for the season. We’ll see how she comes out of this.

“I just said to Mark there that on drier ground she probably wants three miles.”