Jockey Davy Russell and owners Gigginstown House Stud made it an opening-race double at Fairyhouse with the impressive Midnight Game in the Fairyhouse On Facebook Hurdle following up Bright New Dawn’s win.
The Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old moved sweetly to the head of affairs between the last two flights, after the odds-on Staying Article had jumped to the front at the second-last.
It soon became apparent Russell had plenty of horse underneath him and the 5-2 chance went clear on the flat to score with a deal in hand.
Mullins said: “Midnight Game is a lot stronger this year but when I took the quarter sheet off him on the parade ring, I thought he looked big and I was a bit worried. Maybe he is better with that bit of strength though.
“His jumping seems to be sharper this season and we’ll probably move him up to a Grade Three race next - he looks to have plenty of gears.”
Russell and Gigginstown had to settle for second in the Bar One Racing Ballyhack Handicap Chase as Sean Byrne’s Lead Kindly Light took top honours.
Russell’s mount Far Away So Close made a bad error when in front with two to jump, losing plenty of ground in the process.
He rallied well, however, only to be not too fluent at the last and in the end could not peg back the Andrew Leigh-ridden winner, who is likely to head to Leopardstown over Christmas for a two-mile handicap.
Cooper targets National for Pady
Forpadydeplasterer will have the John Smith’s Grand National as his big target after recording his first victory in well over three years with a stylish performance in the Glen Chase at Thurles. Although without a victory since his Arkle Trophy success at the 2009 Cheltenham Festival, Tom Cooper’s 10-year-old has filled the runner-up spot on a number of occasions at the very highest level. Sent off a 3-1 shot faced with five rivals on his second attempt a three miles, Forpadydeplasterer was ridden patiently by Bryan Cooper but made eyecatching headway to take closer order rounding the home turn. Snooze did his best out in front, but Forpadydeplasterer took over at the final fence and kicked clear to score by five and a half lengths. Berties Dream just grabbed third spot from 2011 Grand National runner-up Oscar Time, who ran a perfectly satisfactory race on his first appearance in a year.
Cooper said: “That is a great relief after three and a half years without a win. Things went all wrong for him at Cheltenham (last time out in the Paddy Power Gold Cup). He missed the first few fences and that was it. Paddy Brennan had the brain to pull him up as he seemed to lose all confidence. “This was an ideal race for him, even though it was over three miles on heavy ground which was a worry, but he got the job done.
“He will be trained for the Grand National now. He had to be placed in a three-mile race to get in it and that’s it done now. He will have two more runs before Aintree. “He jumped brilliant today which he hadn’t done for a while.” Stan James gave Forpadydeplasterer a 50-1 quote for Aintree.
Prendergast salutes McDonogh
Trainer Kevin Prendergast wished Declan McDonogh the best of luck after the jockey was confirmed as the Aga Khan’s Irish retained rider for next season.
Prendergast and McDonogh have enjoyed a fruitful partnership for over a decade in Ireland, registering a number of Group One victories with the likes of Rebelline, Termagant, Kingsfort and the 2011 Phoenix Stakes winner La Collina. McDonogh, champion jockey in 2006, will now largely be riding for the powerful yard of John Oxx, but Prendergast hopes he will still be available to ride for him on occasion. The County Kildare handler will not appoint a successor to McDonogh in the role of stable jockey.
Prendergast said: “It’s a good job and I think Declan really deserves it. He’s a fine rider and he works hard.
“He’s never missed a day since he’s been with me for the last 12 years or so and I hope it goes really well for him. When he’s not riding for Mr Oxx, we’ll use him if he’s available. We also have Chris Hayes and Sam James, so we’re not short in that department.” McDonogh reiterated his delighted at getting one of the most prestigious jobs in Flat racing.
“I’m really thrilled, it’s a great step,” he told At The Races.
“It’s a fantastic yard at Mr Oxx’s, it’s exciting times for me and it’s a privilege to be putting on those green and red silks. It’s great to be part of the team and we’ll see how we go. Kevin is keen to use me whenever Mr Oxx doesn’t need me.”
McDonogh is hoping the move will increase his prospects of being crowned champion jockey for a second time. “You’d like to think so, maybe. It would be great,” he said.
Added edge to title battle
Pat Smullen and Joseph O’Brien are still expected to be the men to beat in the race for the Flat jockeys’ title in 2013. O’Brien eventually came out on top in a battle royal this season with former champion Smullen, a race that helped ensure the last few weeks of the season had an extra edge.
Smullen is 5-4 favourite to gain his revenge next year, with O’Brien a 2-1 chance. Wayne Lordan is next in the betting with Stan James at 5-1, while Declan McDonogh is just 9-1 following his appointment as first rider to the Aga Khan in Ireland. Joseph Burke, spokesman for Stan James in Ireland, said: “Riding as first jockey to His Highness The Aga Khan in Ireland is a fantastic job for Declan McDonogh to land and he now has a real chance to become Irish Champion Flat Jockey for the second time in his career (he first won the title in 2006).
“This is reflected in the fact that when Stan James issued our prices for last season’s Irish Flat jockeys’ championship betting, McDonogh was a 50-1 shot whereas, he has been introduced as 9-1 fourth-favourite for next season’s championship.
“That being said, he will have to ride out of his skin to beat the two jockeys who fought out the battle for this year’s title, Joseph O’Brien and Pat Smullen, whilst it is but a matter of time before Wayne Lordan wins his first championship.
“Next season promises to match, if not surpass, this season for excitement all the way to the wire.”
Oscar gives Elliott Taunton prize
County Meath trainer Gordon Elliott made his latest raid to England pay dividends as Oscar Hill landed the Bet toteplacepot Text Tote To 89660 Selling Hurdle at Taunton.
Sent off the 8-11 favourite having won a similar race at Huntingdon earlier in the month, the six-year-old Oscar Hill was always handy and ridden to challenge two out by Tom O’Brien. Leading at the last, the Oscar gelding was driven out on the flat to beat the Rebecca Curtis-trained Take Of Shoc’s by seven lengths, with a further 14 lengths back to Parhelion in third. It was a third British win for Oscar Hill, who also struck at Musselburgh in January, where Jason Maguire was in the plate. Elliott’s charge has won in Ireland, in the north at Downpatrick, where he picked up a handicap hurdle in the hands of Paul Carberry in March.
Argento still in Commander sights
Nigel Twiston-Davies remains hopeful Imperial Commander will be back in action at Cheltenham in the New Year. The former Gold Cup winner had earlier this month been in line to make his first appearance since the blue riband of 2011 but was ruled out of the Betfair Chase with a setback. Twiston-Davies now has his sights set on Prestbury Park at the end of January.
He said: “He’s OK and will probably start road work and swimming on Monday. With a splint bone it’s just a growth on a bone and you knock it off. It’s not a problem, it just stops you.
“In six weeks he will hopefully start cantering and it’s going to be tight again but I’m hoping to have him back for the Argento Chase at Cheltenham.”