Assemble fits the bill for O’Brien and Fitzgerald in Kerry National

Joseph O’Brien’s Assemble was a comfortable winner of the Guinness Kerry National at Listowel.

Partnered by 7lb claimer Shane Fitzgerald, the seven-year-old provided his pilot with the biggest victory of his career when taking the €150,000 contest by two and three-quarter lengths from Brahma Bull, in a race that had its fair share of drama.

Starting at 9-1, the Gigginstown House Stud-owned gelding travelled neatly behind the leaders, avoiding any trouble and throwing down a challenge with two fences remaining, catching long-time leader Annamix and holding off the rallying runner-up.

Assistant trainer Brendan Powell said: “On his form at Cheltenham this year when he was fifth in the Paddy Power (Plate), he’d a good chance. He’s always threatened he’d stay well.

“Shane seems to get a lovely tune out of him. He’s a horse that has fallen three times but he’s a great horseman and got him jumping.

“He’d a nice position the whole way. I thought turning all you’ve got to do is jump the last two and he’d win because he’d keep galloping.

“The ground probably suited him as well.”

He added: “Now that his jumping has got together hopefully he’s got a good future. He could be an Irish National, horse but that’s for Joseph and Mr (Michael) O’Leary to decide.”

Fitzgerald added: “It’ll probably take a good while to sink in, but it’s unreal. It’s an absolutely massive thanks to Joseph O’Brien and to Gigginstown – to everyone in the yard, and all the staff that put in all the work to get to days like this that we’re all very grateful for.

“It’s some thrill, and just to be on a horse of that calibre is just unreal. It’s hard to describe, the feeling is just unreal.

“He had a couple of F’s on his card, but I thought I got a great spin off him in the Galway Plate. He finished seventh and ran an absolute cracker. We thought the flatter track here would suit him.

“I was happy everywhere I went today. When I turned for home and gave him a squeeze and he picked up, I knew I was full of horse going to the second-last. I knew if something came to me, he was going to battle hard if need be.

“It’s fairytale stuff. You can’t really describe it.”

Farclas spearheads three-pronged Kerry National challenge for Gigginstown

Farclas makes his first appearance since contesting the Grand National at Aintree in the spring as one of three runners for Gigginstown House Stud in Wednesday’s Guinness Kerry National.

The Gordon Elliott-trained grey contested a number of high-profile handicap chases last season – finishing third and fourth in two major events at Leopardstown before filling the runner-up spot at the Cheltenham Festival.

Farclas rounded off his campaign by finishing fifth behind the Rachael Blackmore-ridden Minella Times in the world’s most famous steeplechase and connections are looking forward to his seasonal debut in the feature event of Listowel’s Harvest Festival.

“He’s a very nice young horse who is hopefully progressing the right way,” said Gigginstown’s Eddie O’Leary.

“It’s his first run of the year, but hopefully he’ll do himself justice.”

The familiar maroon and white colours will also be carried by Elliott’s Conflated and the Assemble from Joseph O’Brien’s yard.

Conflated was a high-class novice chaser last season and is expected to strip fitter for a recent comeback run on the Flat at Gowran Park.

O’Leary added: “Conflated will be sharper for his run. He’s a nice young horse – hopefully he’s a Graded horse in a handicap. The trip might just stretch him a bit.

“Assemble was nearly a good young horse last year and hopefully he’s one to look forward to.

“They all have a squeak and hopefully one of them gets lucky.”

Trainer John Ryan faces a nervous wait to discover whether Fairyhill Run will make the cut for the €150,000 contest.

The six-year-old has been towards the head of ante-post lists or some time following a profitable summer campaign – but much to the dismay of connections, she was only first reserve after the declaration stage.

Ryan, who is also responsible for the third reserve in Waitnsee, said: “It’s very frustrating knowing that a rating of 131 got in last year, given Fairyhill Run is rated 137 and Waitnsee is 135.

“We’ve got until 11am on Wednesday, so fingers crossed.

“Hopefully the two of them get in as they are absolutely flying – they couldn’t be going better.”

Aramax (Elliott) and Darasso (O’Brien) are two of seven runners for leading owner JP McManus, while champion trainer Willie Mullins has declared four for Rich and Susannah Ricci in Brahma Bull, Annamix, Koshari and second reserve Karl De Grosse.

Cabaret Queen holds on for Kerry National honours

Two mares fought out a thrilling finish to the Guinness Kerry National, with Cabaret Queen just holding off the late thrust of Moyhenna.

The Willie Mullins-trained Cabaret Queen, winner of the Munster National last season for her enthusiastic bunch of owners, made just about every yard of the running.

Cabaret Queen had burned off most of her rivals by the second last, but she had been jumping out to her right at most fences and did so again in the straight.

When the 6-1 shot also went right at the last, JJ Slevin, a late replacement for Donagh Meyler, sensed his opportunity against the rail and the Denis Hogan-trained Moyhenna began to gain with every stride.

The pair crossed the line together and there was an agonising wait before judge Jennifer Walsh called the result.

The 11-2 favourite Doctor Duffy was back in third with The West’s Awake, who travelled well for a long way, back in fourth.

“She was so brave and Paul was so brave. He did what he set out to do,” said Mullins.

“She jumped out of her skin and I don’t think she missed a fence. She got half-lengths and lengths where it mattered.

“Paul said she hadn’t one iota left. It was a last-gasp win and being so brave it would have been hard to lose it, but it’s tough on the runner-up too, who ran a cracker.

“I would have taken a draw coming off the stand as I thought we were beaten.

“She went to the Munster National last year, but she had a very hard race there and it wouldn’t be my first thought now to go back for the Munster National.

“Going back into another handicap might be tough and I’m going to look at Graded races or conditions races for her.”

Mullins has been a notable absentee on courses since racing resumed and said: “I said when the owners came back I’d be back, so here I am. It was tremendous that two of the syndicate were here and I’m very happy for them and Jack Cantillon, who put it all together.

“It’s great that HRI have managed to keep racing on. It’s disappointing that more people aren’t allowed, especially for the likes of Listowel, however we have to be thankful for what we have.”

Cabaret Queen was completing a double for Mullins and Townend who had earlier lowered the colours of the previously unbeaten Malone Road with N’golo in the Seamus Mulvaney Bookmaker Novice Hurdle.

Malone Road made a mess of the last flight for Jack Kennedy, but even before then he was under pressure and Townend brought N’golo through a narrow gap between the long odds-on favourite and Wajaaha.

“He was probably fortunate that Jack’s lad let him down at the last, but they are there to be jumped and he left behind a disappointing run the last day,” said Townend.

“We left Kilbeggan scratching our heads a bit, but that was a bit more like it today. He’ll have to build on it, but at least he left the run behind him the last day.”

Doctor Duffy out to extend winning run in Kerry National

Charles Byrnes is keeping his fingers crossed Doctor Duffy can continue his progression and put up a bold show in the Guinness Kerry National at Listowel.

The high-class hurdler was beaten on his first three starts over fences – finishing fourth on his chasing debut at Tipperary before suffering short-priced defeats when runner-up at Roscommon and Galway in July.

However, Doctor Duffy rewarded those who kept the faith when scoring in a first-time visor at Kilbeggan last month – and the headgear seemed to do the trick again when he followed up in the Mayo National at Ballinrobe two and a half weeks ago.

Byrnes said: “It took him a good while to get his act together over fences. He couldn’t win a beginners chase not that long ago – but his last two runs have been good, and the visor seems to have helped him.

“He’s up in grade and doesn’t have a lot of experience over fences, but we’ll hope for the best.

“If he runs like he did in Ballinrobe, he should run a good race.”

Doctor Duffy is the clear favourite in a maximum field of 18 runners on Wednesday.

Champion trainer Willie Mullins fires a three-pronged assault, with stable jockey Paul Townend partnering Cabaret Queen – winner of the Munster National at Limerick last autumn and third in the Galway Plate on her latest appearance.

Willie Mullins has a strong hand
Willie Mullins has a strong hand (Simon Cooper/PA)

The eight-year-old mare is joined by stablemates Robin Des Foret (David Mullins) and Blazer (Mark Walsh), who finished second and third respectively in a handicap chase at Killarney last month.

Mullins’ assistant David Casey said: “Cabaret Queen ran a great race in the Galway Plate. I think the track and the ground should suit her, so hopefully she’ll run well again.

“We’re putting cheek-pieces on Blazer for the first time, which I think will make a big difference to him. He’s in good form and ran a good race in Killarney the last day – I could see him running a big race.

“Robin Des Foret has been second in a couple of good races in Killarney this year, which is a flat track and similar to Listowel. He disappointed in the Galway Plate, but I think coming back to a flat track will be a help to him.

“Hopefully they’ll all run well. It’s a competitive race, but you can make a case for them all.

Malone Road runs at Listowel on Wednesday
Malone Road runs at Listowel on Wednesday (PA)

Henry de Bromhead saddled last year’s Kerry National hero Poker Party and has this year declared four runners – with Plan Of Attack, Spyglass Hill and Kupatana joined by third reserve Minella Times.

Gordon Elliott has a couple of representatives in Ravenhill and Three Musketeers, while Joseph O’Brien has Mortal and second reserve High Sparrow in contention.

Other hopefuls include Edward O’Grady’s The West’s Awake and Dermot McLoughlin’s course-and-distance winner Freewheelin Dylan.

The main attraction on the undercard is Elliott’s Malone Road, who puts his unbeaten record on the line in the Seamus Mulvaney Bookmaker Novice Hurdle.

The Cheveley Park-owned triple bumper winner returned from the best part of two years off the track to make a winning debut over obstacles at Kilbeggan last month, and will be strongly fancied to follow up faced with four rivals.

Mulholland eyeing twin assault on Kerry National

Neil Mulholland is set to be double-handed in next week’s Guinness Kerry National with Shantou Village and Soupy Soups due to line up in the Listowel feature.

Shantou Village is no stranger to the three-mile contest, having finished fifth in 2018 before unseating his rider at the final obstacle when still in with every chance last year.

The 10-year-old has had two spins over hurdles since the resumption of British jumps racing in July and he will be joined by stablemate Soupy Soups, who recently struck gold at Perth, on the trip to Ireland.

Mulholland said: “The plan is to run both Soupy Soups, who won the Perth Gold Cup for us at the end of last month, and Shantou Village, who picked up for prize money when fifth in the race in 2018 and was unlucky last year with what happened at the last fence.

“It is a great race with great prize money and hopefully everything works out. The drier it stays the better it will be for both our horses.”

Peter Fahey is also hoping for dry weather for his contender Peregrine Run, who lifted a Grade Three chase back in July and was last seen finishing fifth in a Flat handicap at Leopardstown in August.

Fahey said: “It is looking like a favourable weather forecast and he’ll run if the ground is good. It just went too soft for him at Galway (pulled up in the Galway Plate).

“He’s fresh and well, really he’s in brilliant form and if the rain stays away, he’ll take his chance.”

The Kerry National is the highlight of the week-long Harvest Festival at Listowel and the contest has 35 contenders at this stage, headed by top weight The Storyteller for Gordon Elliott.

He also has Ravenhill, Three Musketeers and Timiyan entered, while Henry De Bromhead also has four in Spyglass Hill, Plan Of Attack, Kupatana and Minella Times.

Willie Mullins has whittled his team down to Cabaret Queen, Robin Des Foret and Blazer with Snow Falcon, successful in the 2018 renewal, and Cap York standing their ground for Noel Meade.