Highs and lows: a round-up of the festive period's winners and losers
Favourites floored, results overturned, big reputations battered and other ones burnished – it's been a frantic few days of Christmas action on both sides of the Irish Sea. Brian Sheerin examines who the sun was shining on – and those dogged by wintry clouds.
Henry de Bromhead
Not a day went by over Christmas where the trainer was not heard telling anyone who asked just how delighted he was. While Monalee came a cropper in the Grade 1 novice chase at Leopardstown on Friday, the stable was scarcely out of the winner’s enclosure across the four days delivering the goods eight times in total.
Mariah Carey’s annoyingly catchy festive tune All I Want For Christmas springs to mind here as socks and underpants would have been wasted on Gavin Cromwell this winter. All he really wanted was for Espoir D’Allen to continue his winning ways in the Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle and, to the trainer’s delight, the classy gelding delivered and confirmed himself a genuine Triumph horse in the process.
With a surname like Frost, it seemed written in the stars that young Bryony would warm the cockles this Christmas. Indeed, the talented rider’s big day in the sun came in an incident packed Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton aboard Black Corton. The pair steered clear of any trouble and ran out impressive winners in the end, with the rider becoming just the second female to secure a Grade 1 winner over jumps.
As his main rivals’ reputations were tarnished in a freakish week in Foxrock, the Seven Barrows trainer was able to rest easy after Buveur D’Air and Might Bite advertised their well-being with straightforward successes at Kempton.
Many people view Christmas as a magical time and Phillip Enright had everybody under a spell at Limerick when, riding a horse called Surf Instructor, he looked destined to hit the deck after his mount made a mistake at the last fence. Not only did the rider retain the partnership, but he coaxed the gelding home to win the race. It was one of the most phenomenal recoveries of the year.
The nine-time champion amateur was the one Closutton constant this week and rode three of the four bumper winners at Leopardstown, all for his father. His ride aboard Minella Encore on Friday was the pick of the three as Mullins grabbed the race by the scruff of the neck and dictated matters. A job well done on what was a trying week.
While most people were in a pre-Christmas tizzy about getting out to the shops in order to buy some last-minute presents, Noel O’Neill, a farrier by trade, was panicking about whether or not his trainer’s licence would arrive on time for him to run Ministerforsport at Limerick. Luckily for O’Neill, the elves at Horse Racing Ireland were working hard on the paperwork, which was completed on time. On this occasion, the big rush was not in vain, as Ministerforsport ran out a comfortable winner.
Noel Meade and Sean FlanaganRoad To Respect became the trainer’s fourth winner of the Leopardstown Christmas Chase, a race formerly known as the Lexus, and a half an hour later Flanagan steered Snow Falcon home to a wide margin beginners’ chase success. Days at the office don’t get much better than that.
Tony Martin has become an ever-increasing force on the Flat, and even recorded a Group 1 success on the level in Italy earlier this year, but the handler returned to the top table of national hunt racing when Anibale Fly landed the €200,000 Paddy Power Chase under Donagh Meyler. Coincidentally, Meyler notched his first success under rules aboard Anibale Fly when the pair won a bumper at Navan in March 2015. The horse is proving to be the gift that keeps on giving for the 21-year-old.
The small-time handler enjoyed a memorable week in Limerick with Crackerdancer and The Ballyboys. The win of Crackerdancer left connections dreaming of the mares’ novice hurdle at Cheltenham while victory for The Ballyboys was equally as special, as the horse is owned by the trainer’s father, Liam. The Hackett household would have been good craic over the Christmas.
Mullins finished the festive period with a respectable haul of nine winners, the highlight being Footpad’s brilliant display in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day. There were happier times 12 months ago, however, as the champion handler sent out 22 winners during the same period. The Closutton Christmas clearly didn’t go well and the stable were hit with some hammer blows, none more so than the sad loss of eight-time Grade 1 and Stayers’ Hurdle winner Nichols Canyon. There were head-scratching moments, too, after the final flight calamity involving Sharjah and Real Steel in the Grade 1 Novice Hurdle, the wheels coming off Faugheen and Min losing a Grade 1 in the stewards room. A week that started so well ultimately turned out to be one to forget.
All was going so well when suddenly, WHAM, not the pop group who sang Last Christmas, but Mengli Khan crashing through the wings of the second last hurdle in the Grade One Novice at Leopardstown. It was quite literally a sickening blow for Kennedy as he was forced to take a few days off after the nasty spill, and as a result, he missed out on some big winners including Apple’s Jade.
Unfortunately for the mud-loving grey, he couldn't prove his doubters wrong and was under pressure a long way from the finish in the King George before eventually finishing 26l behind Might Bite.
Returned “clinically abnormal” after running below-par when seventh behind Road To Respect in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase but connections remained positive that the horse of the year would be back to defend his Gold Cup crown at Cheltenham despite the disappointing effort.
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