Missunited completes back-to-back Galway Hurdle wins for Cork trainer Mick Winters
Rebel Fitz also delivers success to complete a perfect Winters day
Jockey Robbie Power salutes his victory on board Missunited in the Galway Hurdle at Ballybrit, Galway yesterday. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Even with tornados in the bay and near-biblical amounts of rain hitting the west, there was nothing to compare to the storm of raucous joy that engulfed the Galway winners enclosure yesterday after Missunited completed a famous back-to-back Guinness Hurdle double for her colourful Co Cork trainer Mick Winters.
Anyone who dismissed the semi-riotous scenes that greeted Winter’s success in Ireland’s richest National Hunt race with Rebel Fitz last year as some kind of sentimental one-off got disabused of their notion with a vengeance as Rebel Fitz returned to Ballybrit to win his third chase in a row just a couple of hours before his stable companion enjoyed her own moment in the figurative Galway Hurdle sun.
Any other sun was at a premium yesterday as almost an inch of rain turned the festival going “heavy” and at the height of the monsoon-like downpour, there was even brief anxiety about whether or not the meeting might be disrupted.
But for a man who remains a pillar of the famously hardy point-to-point community, Winters remained notably composed about his mare’s chance, a composure backed-up by what he felt to be cold, hard evidence in the formbook.
Winters may be a point to point man to his core but Missunited’s owner-breeders, Vanessa and Dan Hutch lean more towards the flat game, with the result that the six year old mare has run more often on the level than over jumps, including when runner-up in the prestigious Savel Beg Stakes in June.
Names as illustrious as Vintage Crop, Yeats and Vinnie Roe won the Savel Beg on-route to legendary status and only the classy Pale Mimosa could deny the former bumper-winner a hugely-valuable win earlier in the summer.
“They nearly broke the track-record that day so the form was there. It was a fantastic run,” said Winters who offered the Galway Hurdle ride to Barry Geraghty who instead opted to ride the 7-2 favourite Ted Veale. “I couldn’t believe Barry didn’t want to ride, but in fairness, he has politics and owners to think about. But I knew my mare was in super form.”
Jason Maguire couldn’t do the weight, so instead the ride was offered to Andrew Lynch, but he was claimed for another horse and Winters turned instead to Robbie Power who had to get off Miley Shah in order to accept and then spent the race thanking his lucky stars he did.
“I’d been having a bad week because the ground has been all against my horses, but I knew this one would handle it and Séamus Heffernan (Missunited’s jockey on the flat) told me she’s as tough as you get,” said Power who won the Galway Plate a decade previously.
“She pricked her ears before the last so I knew there was loads there. Mick was very bullish, said the ground wouldn’t be an issue. To win two years in a row with two different horses is unbelievable.”
Flaxen Flare did best of the rest up the hill, with Ted Veale only eighth as Missunited’s mixture of class and grit proved perfect for the conditions.
“I actually would love to see her on a bit of good ground. I’m sure she’d be better on it. But she’s won before on bad ground and I genuinely fancied her,” said Winters who would long-term love to try and break Quevega’s mares hurdle monopoly at Cheltenham.
Missunited’s cross-code credentials though are obvious from her short-term target which is a Group Three at the Curragh in three weeks’ time.
The genial Winters is also clearly not a man to hold a grudge as it was Geraghty who partnered Rebel Fitz to his novice chase victory earlier in the day where again class was the key ingredient to success.
Last year’s big race winner put in a thoroughly polished performance that saw only one brief moment of anxiety as Geraghty gave him a squeeze to keep his position after the final fence. “He’d have schooled at Dromahane (point to point) after a meeting there when the ground would be chopped up so it wasn’t new to him,” said Winters.
There’s little new about the winners’ enclosure for Winters either, be it at Dromahane, the Curragh, Galway, or anywhere else.