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Jeff Kidder upsets the odds once more at Punchestown

Jeff Kidder sprang a 22-1 surprise for trainer Noel Meade as he lifted the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle, the final Grade One of this year’s Punchestown Festival and the Irish jumps season.

Triumph Hurdle hero Quilixios was widely expected to supplement his Cheltenham Triumph Hurdle success and maintain his unbeaten record, but he was beaten a long way out under Rachael Blackmore.

His swift retreat appeared to have handed victory to Willie Mullins’ Cheltenham third Haut En Coleurs, but Jeff Kidder found plenty in the straight, collaring the Willie Mullins-trained runner before the last to go on to win by three-quarters of a length in the hands of Sean Flanagan.

Zanahiyr swooped late to grab second after getting a bit tight for room with the winner at one point, prompting a stewards’ inquiry that made no difference to the result.

Sean Flanagan celebrates on Jeff Kidder
Sean Flanagan celebrates on Jeff Kidder (Niall Carson/PA)

Jeff Kidder was claiming his fourth hurdles victory, having won the juvenile handicap hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival at 80-1 before graduating to Grade Two company at Fairyhouse last month.

“I said in Fairyhouse, if he ever jumps them all he’ll be a really good horse and he did jump today,” said Meade.

“He jumped brilliant and he’s just never stopped improving. Since he came back from Cheltenham, he’s like a film star in the yard. The girls take him off to the beach for a dip and he’s become a star in the yard. I think he’s liking every minute of it.

“A real fast gallop really suits him, like they went in the Fred Winter and as they did there. They were coming back to him and his jumping was fantastic.”

Meade will now look to return to the Flat with Jeff Kidder, adding: “He’s going to have a little break, although I suppose he’s so well you’d think to yourself you should keep going.

“He’ll certainly have a run on the Flat, he’s never going to be a chaser.

“Now that he’s won that, he’s going to have to stay with the big fellas now, that’s his last chance to run in a four-year-old race, so he’ll have to wait until the back end to have a go again.

“It’s been a lonely old week up until now. I said Willie has been the easiest man to find in Punchestown as he’s been in the winner’s enclosure all week.

“To be fair he was the first one to congratulate me. I’m delighted, absolutely thrilled.”

Stormy Ireland (7-2) galloped her rivals into submission in the Grade One Coolmore Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle – chalking up Mullins’ 17th winner of the week.

Danny Mullins was eager to seize the initiative on the seven-year-old, who was one of four contenders for Willie Mullins.

Stormy Ireland bowled along in front and was still full of running with two to jump as 8-11 favourite and stablemate Concertista tried to reel in her handy advantage along with Minella Melody.

However, Mullins had plenty up his sleeve and the mare, who only recently return to Mullins’ care following an unsuccessful spell with Paul Nicholls, cruised home by to take a first top-level victory.

Stormy Ireland impressed Willie Mullins with her win
Stormy Ireland impressed Willie Mullins with her win (Niall Carson/PA)

The Closutton handler admitted his surprise at Stormy Ireland’s progress following a victory at Fairyhouse last month and could now look at Flat targets with his charge.

He said: “She appears to have improved from Fairyhouse. It’s a great day for Danny, a nice double for him.

“That mare surprised me, how much she has come on from that.

“We’ll keep her in training, I don’t think she’s going to go to the breeding shed this year as she looks to have plenty left in the tank.

“I’m having second thoughts now about going chasing with her and maybe we could go back to the Flat with her.

“She’s by Motivator and it might be a safer career option than going chasing. I don’t think she’s going to improver her pedigree by getting black type over fences, she has enough over hurdles.

“If she could do something on the Flat, that would be better for her.”

Mullins made it 18 when the Brian Hayes-ridden Brahma Bull lifted the Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase, before Koshari grabbed another for the trainer in the Baroneracing.com Handicap Hurdle under Ricky Doyle.

Call It Magic (left) made amends for Thursday's mishap
Call It Magic (left) made amends for Thursday’s mishap (Niall Carson/PA)

Keith Donoghue made amends for an unfortunate incident on Thursday as he teamed up with Call It Magic (22-1) to win the opening Dooley Insurance Group Cross Country Chase.

The duo came unstuck in the La Touche Cup when Donoghue took the wrong course, but trainer Ross O’Sullivan thrilled to see the pair right the wrong with a half-length verdict over Ballyboker Bridge.

“I got an unbelievable kick out of that. I can’t believe it, he hasn’t won a race for four years,” said O’Sullivan.

“All the drama the other day and all the effing and blinding that went with it. I’m in shock. He battled and jumped brilliant.

“Racing is so funny with the twists and turns. Myself and Keith were at loggerheads with each other on Thursday, but we’re back today and he gave the horse an absolute genius of a ride.”

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.”

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.

Mixed bag of results sees punting battle about even

A topsy-turvy opening day of the Cheltenham Festival saw bookmakers endure mixed fortunes, though it could have been worse.

The situation looked bleak for the layers after favourites took three of the first four races to give backers a dream start.

Appreciate It (8-11) got punters off the mark in style with a facile victory in the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle for trainer Willie Mullins.

It was a similar story with the Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin (4-9), who had no trouble landing the odds in the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy.

Appreciate It was dominant in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Appreciate It was dominant in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Bookmakers pulled one back when Vintage Clouds (28-1) beat the 100-30 favourite Happygolucky in the Ultima Handicap Chase – but Honeysuckle (11-10) had punters on top again after the Unibet Champion Hurdle.

The layers were saved further punishment when 11-1 shot Black Tears got up in the shadow of the post to deny 10-11 market leader Concertista in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.

That proved a turning point, with Jeff Kidder’s success at 80-1 at the expense of 9-2 favourite Saint Sam in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle giving bookmakers another huge result.

Even though Galvin was only a 7-2 winner of the concluding Sam Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase, he was the least supported of the three market leaders.

Black Tears (left) foiled the well-backed Concertista
Black Tears (left) foiled the well-backed Concertista (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“The last gasp win of Black Tears ensured bookmakers avoided one of the most costly Cheltenham Festival opening days in recent years, although earlier victories for well-backed favourites Appreciate It, Shishkin and Honeysuckle meant punters still had plenty to cheer about,” said Coral’s David Stevens.

“We saw very early on Tuesday morning which horses were proving most popular on the opening day of this very different Festival, with the five best-backed runners being Appreciate It, Shishkin, Happygolucky, Honeysuckle and Concertista, so it was looking ominous after the first two had obliged with the minimum of fuss.

“Overall we’ve ended day one with a sense of relief, as it could have been a whole lot more costly, although plenty of punters will start day two playing with our money.

It was a poor start to the four-day meeting for William Hill.

“The bookies had one of their worst first days of the Cheltenham Festival after three short-priced winners delivered for punters,” said their spokesman Rupert Adams.

“It could have been a lot worse if Concertista had won the Mares’ Hurdle.

Shishkin oozed class in the Arkle
Shishkin oozed class in the Arkle (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“Our day started badly with Appreciate it, got worse with Shishkin and became disastrous when Honeysuckle delivered.”

Ladbrokes feared the worst halfway through the card until the big-priced winners came to their rescue.

Their spokesman Jon Lees said: “Given their short odds we were already bracing ourselves for a scenario in which the three best-backed horses of the day, Appreciate It, Shishkin and Honeysuckle, could hurt us if they obliged.

“The punishment could have been even worse if Happygolucky and Concertista scored as well, but thankfully Vintage Clouds brought some relief and we were shedding tears of joy when Black Tears got up in the final strides to grab the Mares’ Hurdle off Concertista.”

Betway had the better of the exchanges despite early results going punters’ way.

Their PR manager Chad Yeomans said: “Bookmakers one, punters nil after day one of the Cheltenham Festival!

“I have to say, I wasn’t so confident after the first two races with both Appreciate It and Shishkin bolting up, and had Happygolucky and Concertista both won, we would have been in a totally different state. Thankfully, with both of them being foiled, we’ve come out on top.

Jeff Kidder (right) was an 80-1 stunner
Jeff Kidder (right) was an 80-1 stunner (Michael Steele/PA)

“The Paul Nicholls pair of Houx Gris and Next Destination – who were both the best-backed in the last two races – were our biggest losers, so with those also being beaten, the trading room floor is full of cheer.”

Paddy Power also reported a narrow lead for bookmakers.

“Having seen hotpots Appreciate It, Shishkin and Honeysuckle all justify favouritism, let me assure you there weren’t any black tears inside our trading room when the leading lady of the same name collared odds-on favourite Concertista in the Mares’ Hurdle,” said spokesman Paul Binfield.

“That was an important head, saving the industry a multi-million pay-out and despite Galvin not being a brilliant result in the lucky last, a couple of big-priced winners, including an incredible 80-1 poke, have helped us into a slight lead going into the second day.”