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.

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“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.

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“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.”