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Sole Pretender delight for Norman Lee at Tipperary

Sole Pretender gave trainer Norman Lee a landmark victory with a determined performance in the Kevin McManus Bookmaker Grimes Hurdle at Tipperary.

Last seen finishing fifth in the Champion Stayers Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival, the Paul Townend-ridden seven-year-old was sent off the 5-4 favourite against seven rivals – which included six carrying the green and gold colours of JP McManus.

It would have been seven McManus-owned runners in the Grade Three contest had Magic Tricks not been declared a non runner.

He was prominent from flag-fall with Effernock Fizz and Darasso, as none of the others got into it.

When Effernock Fizz began to drop away from before the second-last, the market leader just had Darasso to contend with – and a fluent jump at the last helped to seal matters, with two lengths between them at the line. Modus took third, another 18 lengths back.

Lee said: “To win our first graded race is unreal and we are lucky to even have a horse to contest one, never mind win one. He is a credit to his owner and the lads at home.

“We thought he might be a little short today but every time we think that, he is still good enough and is always there. Paul gave him a great ride and went on the outer for the better ground.

“He has a high enough rating and while he didn’t win by a lot, we will stay in graded company and think about a Galway Hurdle. He shouldn’t go up.”

The trainer added: “We have a dozen horses in at home, he is our stable star. I don’t think three miles worked at Grade One level the last day. Eventually next year we’ll go for a Grade One race again – maybe he is a horse who will win Grade Twos and Threes, but we’ll keep dreaming with him.

“We are over the moon with him and Michael (Hogan, owner) is very important to him as horses like him are usually in big yards. We’ll treat him like the star he is for us.”

Sacred Bridge takes Tipperary triumph

Sacred Bridge maintained her unbeaten record with a clear-cut victory in a dramatic race for the Coolmore Ten Sovereigns Tipperary Stakes at Tipperary.

Successful on her debut at Naas just seven days earlier, the Ger Lyons-trained filly took the step up to Listed company in her stride.

Harmony Rose and Keith Dalgleish’s UK challenger Misty Ayr set the pace with Sacred Bridge on their heels.

The race had a wide-open look until Sacred Bridge (evens favourite) quickened into the lead inside the final furlong under Colin Keane.

The daughter of Bated Breath, wearing the Juddmonte colours, put the race to bed to score by a length and a quarter from Misty Ayr. Harmony Rose was a length and a half further away in third.

Shane Lyons, assistant to his brother, said: “We’re very happy with that. She had a win last week and there was an early closing race in the Eyrefield Stakes on Saturday and she would have been in that but we don’t like putting them in until they win their maiden, that’s the policy.

“We have obviously done very little with her and she actually put weight on since and was giving us all the signs she wanted to go back.

“She did that very genuinely and Colin was again sympathetic with her. It was important she got black-type and Colin loves her temperament. She’ll mix and match it between five and six (furlongs) and take baby steps and go back to the team now and set out a plan. She has an exciting future.

“This filly is smaller than (former stablemate) Viadera, but has the same temperament and oozes with class.”

There was a nasty incident before the winning line when the Aidan O’Brien-trained Amalfi Coast suffered a fatal injury.

Jockey Wayne Lordan was thrown clear and was quickly up on his feet. He was checked over by the racecourse medical staff.

On Amalfi Coast, Lyons added: “I’d also like to give our sympathies to Aidan and the team as that is a horrible thing to happen and it has put a bit of a dampener on it.”

McManus has magnificent seven set for Grimes Hurdle duty

Owner JP McManus is going all out to win the Kevin McManus Bookmaker Grimes Hurdle he sponsors by providing seven of the nine runners for the Grade Three heat at Tipperary on Thursday.

A Wave Of The Sea, Band Of Outlaws, Darasso, Hearts Are Trumps, Magic Tricks, Modus and Winter Escape give him a formidable hand in the two-mile contest.

His racing manager Frank Berry explained it was an obvious race for the team to support.

“They do a good job with the watering at Tipperary and the boss sponsors the race – it’s nice to be able to support it,” he said.

Berry went through the contenders starting with the first-three named, who are all trained Joseph O’Brien.

Joseph O’Brien saddles three runners in the Grimes Hurdle
Joseph O’Brien saddles three runners in the Grimes Hurdle (Simon Cooper/PA)

“A Wave Of The Sea had a little break and Joseph says he’s in good form so we’ll see how he runs,” he said.

“Band Of Outlaws has had a long break and has had plenty of problems in the meantime. He ran nicely on his comeback on the Flat so hopefully he’ll come on again and run well.

“Darasso has found his form again. He was going through a bad spell, running disappointingly, but he won nicely in Killarney and put up a good performance in a chase at Listowel so hopefully he’ll be very competitive.”

Modus has his first run for Edna Bolger following his move from Paul Nicholls’ stable in Ditcheat.

“He had his problems over the years and it’s a good starting point for Edna and hopefully he’ll get round safe and sound,” said Berry.

Winter Escape is ready to have his first run since September
Winter Escape is ready to have his first run since September (Mike Egerton/PA)

Winter Escape, trained by Aidan Howard, has his first start since winning over fences at Listowel in September.

“He’s back in good form again, he should improve for the run and we hope he runs a nice race,” he said.

The Desmond McDonogh-trained Hearts Are Trumps and Denise Foster’s Magic Tricks were first and second in a valuable 20-runner handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse in April.

“Hearts Are Trumps is a very consistent little horse and never runs a bad race. The trainer is very happy with him so hopefully he’ll run nicely.

“Magic Tricks was disappointing at Punchestown the last day for some reason so he needs to bounce back and see where we are with him.”

The McManus seven may not necessarily have things entirely their own way, as Norman Lee’s Sole Pretender was a good winner at Cork in April and was fifth in the Champion Stayers’ Hurdle at Punchestown on his latest start.

Recent Curragh handicap winner Effernock Fizz, trained by Katy Brown, completes the line-up.

Classic Getaway makes winning start for new connections

Expensive purchase Classic Getaway made a successful debut under rules in the concluding bumper at Tipperary on Tuesday.

Having impressed on his sole start in the point-to-point field in November, the five-year-old was bought for the eye-watering sum of £570,000 the following month by leading bloodstock agent Tom Malone and trainer Gordon Elliott.

With owners Cheveley Park Stud removing all their horses in Elliott’s care in early March, Classic Getaway joined Willie Mullins and was unsurprisingly all the rage on his first start for the champion trainer in the Junction INH Flat Race.

Ridden by champion amateur Patrick Mullins, the imposing gelding travelled well for much of the two-and-a-half-mile contest before easing clear early in the home straight.

The 4-9 favourite looked green when asked to go about his business, but was ultimately in a different league to his rivals – passing the post with 15 lengths in hand over 40-1 shot Bolintlea.

The winning rider said: “He is a beautiful-looking horse, and I think he was a little bit more expensive than a Rolls Royce Phantom! But I’m pretty sure Mrs (Patricia) Thompson (owner of Cheveley Park) will get more fun out of him than a Rolls Royce.

“He’s a big baby and that’s why I was keen to teach him and get him to stride out. He is a big baby at home for a five-year-old who had a point to point run and he’s not a bumper horse.

“I imagine he’ll go jumping later in the season – he wouldn’t have run, only the ground was so wet and we said we’d get a run into him.

“Willie didn’t rush him and let him settle in. He didn’t have to run this season, but it just happened with the weather.

“I think he’ll continue to improve mentally.”

Elliptic puts down Royal Ascot marker with Tipperary victory

Elliptic emerged as a Royal Ascot candidate with an impressive victory at Tipperary on Tuesday evening.

The Donnacha O’Brien-trained filly showed a smart turn of foot in picking up her rivals from two furlongs out, running on strongly to account for Quick Suzy by a length and a half in the Yeomanstown Stud “El Kabeir” Irish EBF Fillies Maiden.

Sent off the 3-1 favourite, the Gavin Ryan-ridden winner is a daughter of Caravaggio.

O’Brien said: “A lot of mine are taking a run and she is a nice filly. She looks to be exciting, has plenty of pace and Caravaggios look very fast.

“She was working very well, working like a really nice fast filly. She was very green for the first few furlongs and I thought she wasn’t going to do anything today, but once she got a bit of light she really took off.

“We will step her up in class now, she’ll have no problem getting six (furlongs), although she was green today more than flat out. She’ll look quicker the next day with a bit of experience.

“You’d have to look at Royal Ascot. We’ll have a look at the calendar and see if we give her another run before it, but you’d be thinking she could be a Queen Mary or Albany filly.”

Unexcepted impresses with victory on chasing debut

Unexcepted put up a sparkling round of jumping to win the Cashel Beginners Chase at Tipperary – in which odds-on favourite Captain Guinness was pulled up at halfway.

Henry de Bromhead’s Captain Guinness was expected to take high rank among this season’s novice chasers, given how well he was running in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in March before he was unfortunately brought down.

Rachael Blackmore set out to make all on the favourite. But after an awkward jump, they conceded the lead to Willie Mullins’ Unexcepted – and Blackmore soon realised all was not well and pulled him up.

That is to take nothing away from the 7-2 winner, though, who was virtually foot perfect throughout for Mark Walsh en route to an eight-length success from Entoucas.

A hurdles winner on his Irish debut last season from the smart Jason The Militant, he was then beaten at odds-on at Limerick and pulled up early in a big handicap in February – but he is clearly over whatever was ailing him that day.

Betway were impressed and gave the winner a 14-1 quote for the Arkle in March, while Betfair are offering 20-1.

“He jumped brilliant and he was out-jumping Rachael (Blackmore), and I was taking him back over the first four fences,” said Walsh.

“After that I said ‘this lad is winging’ – so I just let him go, and he loved it. He was very quick over his fences and makes lengths at them, so you’d have to be delighted with that.

“He is a half-brother to (Grade One-winning chaser) Great Field, so hopefully he’ll go the same way and win a few of those good races.”

Blackmore reported to the stewards that Captain Guinness returned “unsound behind”.

Saint Roi makes perfect return to action at Tipperary

County Hurdle winner Saint Roi is as low as 10-1 for the Champion Hurdle in March following a smooth win on his comeback in the Horse & Jockey Hotel Hurdle at Tipperary.

The Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old is very lightly-raced, but that did not stop him recording an extremely impressive success at Cheltenham.

Sent off the 4-7 favourite to make a winning reappearance, Mark Walsh never endured a moment of worry and despite a slightly sloppy leap at the last, Saint Roi beat Tigris River by five and a half lengths.

Mullins said: “I’m very happy with that. The race conditions suited him very well and it was a big advantage.

“Noel Meade’s horse (Beacon Edge) coming out was a help as well and we’ll take all the help we can take at this stage of the season!

“He did it nicely, but he had a big advantage with the conditions of the race.

“Mark said he was meeting the last wrong and fiddled it. I think he got a bit tight for room over the third-last. I was worried that he was coming off the bridle, but Mark said he was just tight for room.

“Otherwise he was very slick with his jumping and I’m not worried on that front.

“That’s the type of speed he shows all the time at home and his last piece of work before Cheltenham was electric. I thought going there he’d take a lot of beating.

“The likes of the County Hurdle are hard races to fancy horses in, though.”

As for future targets, Mullins added: “He did very well during the summer and is out early purely because this race suited conditions-wise.

“The Morgiana would be on the agenda, but that might be throwing him in at the deep end.

“He’s a second-season novice and there might be easier options. I think there is a race at Down Royal for second-season novices (Grade Two WKD Hurdle).”

Saint Roi was completing an early Grade Three double for Mullins who was also on the mark with the Paul Townend-ridden Shewearsitwell (11-8 favourite) in the Joe Mac Novice Hurdle. A step up in class awaits.

“It was a good performance and she’s improving all the time,” said Mullins.

“She’s a sharp little jumper and that was a huge benefit to her in this contest, stepping up in grade.

“At least I know now that she’s competitive over the minimum trip so I wouldn’t be afraid to keep her at that trip.

“I’ll have a word with Paul though because he said she was probably going as fast as she was able to so when the better hurdlers come out it might be difficult. So far so good.

“We’re very happy for Closutton Racing Club (syndicate) as it’s their first graded winner. It’s good to have a nice mare for them.

“We’ll try to keep her to mares’ company and she’ll have to go up in grade now. The dream would be to be good enough to run in the Royal Bond.

“She’s good enough to run in it now anyway and that will be in the back of our minds.

“We might try to find something between now and then for her. Timewise Down Royal could be a possibility for her.”

Davy Russell returns victorious aboard Galvin
Davy Russell returns victorious aboard Galvin (Gary Carson/PA)

The other Grade Three on the card was the Like A Butterfly Novice Chase, which went the way of the Gordon Elliott-trained Galvin, who was sent off at odds of 1-4.

Winning rider Davy Russell said: “It was great and he’s getting the hang of things. It wasn’t the toughest of races, but he’s coping with things an awful lot better now.

“Gordon does a great job with all these horses and he’s a fantastic man to be riding for. I’m delighted to be a part of the team.”

Current Option grabs Concorde glory

Current Option doubled Adrian McGuinness’ career Group Three tally, with the Lusk trainer’s second win at that level in successive weeks, in the Coolmore US Navy Flag Concorde Stakes at Tipperary.

McGuinness was still searching for his first Group winner on the Flat only eight days ago – until Bowerman delivered for him in the Diamond Stakes at Dundalk.

Current Option proved he can do it on the turf too, just getting the better of a stirring duel with runner-up Laughifyouwant.

The four-year-old, already the winner of a big handicap and a Listed race this summer, was prominent almost throughout and produced a sustained challenge in the final furlong under Gavin Ryan to prevail by a short-head at 7-2 – with the staying-on Soul Search two lengths further back in third.

“That’s my first Group winner on the grass, but I had my first Group winner with Bowerman last week –  it’s so easy after 20 years!” said McGuinness.

“This is brilliant and is great for the lads – this horse keeps improving, and we’ve had so much fun with him.

“It is great for (owners) the Dooley brothers in England, and the late Bart O’Sullivan was a great supporter too – if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here.

“He wasn’t a cheap horse (85,000gns at Tattersalls in July 2019), but he has well and truly covered himself long before today – and today we are in bonus territory.”

Overseas adventures may beckon next for the much-improved gelding.

McGuinness added: “We’ll see what’s on the agenda in Ireland, but more than likely he will go to the Middle East for some of their festivals.

“We haven’t killed him with racing this year either way – and we’ll sit back and think about things now.”

Sweet Gardenia earlier sprang a 25-1 shock in the Listed Coolmore Churchill Stakes.

John Joseph Murphy’s filly was an even bigger price when she struck for the first time at the third attempt as the 50-1 winner of the valuable Silver Irish EBF Ballyhane Stakes at Naas back in August.

She had managed only fourth and 10th at Group Three and Listed level since, but got back to winning ways decisively under Robbie Colgan – by a length from 5-6 favourite Ontario.

The latter appeared to be going easily into the straight.

Colgan stole through to lead on the far rail, though, and kept on tenaciously to keep Ontario at bay.

The winning trainer’s son George said: “She is a very smart filly, but ran a small bit flat (last time) and we were disappointed with her at Leopardstown.

“The Ballyhane race was also a nice race to win, and we’re delighted to win this Listed race, and hopefully there will be plenty more to come with her.

“There are a couple of races she could run in later this year, but she’ll be a lovely filly for next year too.”