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Patrick Mullins atop Faugheen.
Patrick Mullins atop Faugheen.

Johnny Ward: Racing in Limerick, Faugheen captures hearts at Leopardstown

Our columnist reports from the first day of the Christmas Festival.
Dec 26th 2019, 5:38 PM 4,101 1

LEOPARDSTOWN WAS HEAVING on the first day of the Christmas Festival, yet the biggest roar in Foxrock was for action taking place many miles west in Limerick.

Justin O’Hanlon is having his first season commentating on a regular basis since Dessie Scahill’s retirement and, talking to him a few days ago, he could not conceal his excitement at calling a race between Samcro and Faugheen.

This sort of felt like a wedding to which the few who couldn’t go were instead having an unreal party down the road… and everyone was tempted to skip out for an hour or so.

The Machine was not at Leopardstown – but the majority of the crowd seemed little older than him. The sun, which prompted some hurdles to be omitted, was low but the dresses weren’t.

Leopardstown on 26 December has clearly taken off as a day for the younger racegoer and it was no great surprise that the queue for the wristbands was moving slowly, as it stated on the wall that you had to be “18+”. Faugheen might still be racing at that age.

The weather was beautiful in its promise of spring, the evenings getting slightly longer, and if some of the young ladies – or lads – in the audience knew little enough but to bet on Rachael Blackmore, they had a reason to come back racing again. One of the most iconic women in racing, we will soon have to stop talking just about her gender. 

We will be talking about Henry de Bromhead for some time to come.

The County Waterford trainer, who for many years was relatively little known, has become one of the most respected faces in racing and his axis with Blackmore produced victories in Aspire Tower in the Grade 2 juvenile hurdle and Notebook in the Grade 1 novice chase.

orlaith-kent-with-aspire-tower-after-winning Dublin Owner Orlaith Kent with Aspire Tower after winning. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

De Bromhead never even trained a juvenile hurdler until last year; now he has the favourite for the Triumph Hurdle in Aspire Tower, who only won by the 18 lengths. “I thought he did it really impressively,” the trainer said.

“He had the profile of one on the Flat that you would like to go hurdling with. I’d imagine good jumping ground would be alright for him as he’s run on faster ground on the Flat. I don’t know any more than you guys really.”

When it comes to training, he certainly knows more, and how his horses eat fences is yet further advertisement of the loose schooling that de Bromhead has embraced as the way to go. Not many do it, but he saw it at Tom Costello’s years ago and that was nearly enough.

They say horses school on their own, without prompting, at his Knockeen barns because they love it so much. Notebook, who slammed Fakir Doudaries, with Laurina bleeding internally and pulled up, certainly loves to jump.

Incredibly, a horse totally unheralded before the start of the season is now favourite for the Arkle. In the same colours, Samcro is 20/1 and many would laugh even at that quote.

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“He just loves fences,” enthused the trainer. “I think it was the first one down the back he took off outside the wings and my heart was in my mouth but he’s quick when he’s in close as well.

“They went some gallop and that really suited him. He loves to gallop at speed.

“He can get a bit wound up. I think those two milers need to be half cracked to do what they do. They need that bit of madness to jump.”

It was a strange day for Adrian Keatley, the Classic-winning trainer who announced on Twitter he was leaving Ireland to train in England but then struck with 20/1 winner Drumconnor Lad, a rare runner for the stable over jumps.

“I’m not sad,” he insisted. “It’s only 20 minutes away on the plane. I am looking forward to the move. We’ll give it a good go.”

There were victories for Willie Mullins (Mt Leinster), Joseph O’Brien (Risk Factor) and Noel Meade (Fauguernon) but none perhaps had a smile wider than Gerard O’Loughlin, who was buzzing after the opening-heat win of Cedarwood Road. He also gained a thing or two from Tom Costello.

“I’ve always liked him at home and he’s as good as I’ve ever had. I’m from Clare originally and have five horses riding out so to have a winner at Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day means a massive amount to me.

“I started off with the Costello’s and was also with Enda Bolger and Jim Bolger. I only have my licence just over a year and I have Space Cadet in the Welsh National at Chepstow tomorrow. We’re flying out tonight and I think he has a good each-way chance at around 40/1.”

It wasn’t Gordon Elliott’s best day, and he was unable to commit to a plan for Samcro post-race, but both live for tomorrow and things could be worse. Everything seems better after a winner.

Several racegoers will attest to same this evening, having fallen in love with a member of the opposite sex, the same sex….or more likely Faugheen.

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Johnny Ward

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