Vastonea and Gary Halpin go extra mile
Galway a happy hunting ground for Kevin Prendergast’s second string
Jockey Gary Halpin onboard Vastonea on his way to winning The Topaz Mile at the Galway Racing Festival in Ballybrit. Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Pinch Hitter won back to back renewals of the race once famously known as the McDonogh in 1981/’82. However Vastonea’s accomplishment might possibly be even more remarkable considering he won the fiercely contested handicap in 2012, finished third in it last year, and returned last evening to score a 12 to 1 victory as apparently veteran trainer Kevin Prendergast’s second-string.
His stable companion, the sole three-year-old Maskoon, was a heavily supported 5 to 1 favourite but while he faded up the gruelling hill, apprentice Gary Halpin powered Vastonea through familiar territory and the grey overhauled the pace-setting Piri Wango by three parts of a length. Baraweez was the first of the cross-channel raiders home in third and Defining Year ran a slightly unlucky fourth.
It was the most valuable of Blanchardstown born Halpin’s fourteen career winners to date but the was conceding Galway experience to Vastonea, and most definitely to Prendergast.
Even before a long and illustrious training career, the Curragh stalwart was established as one of Ireland’s top amateur jockeys and on that famous Ballybrit occasion 50 years ago when Dermot Weld scored on Ticonderoga, it was Prendergast on the runner up.
Weld celebrated his 66th birthday yesterday and although Prendergast’s old rival endured an expensive reverse in the juvenile fillies maiden with Chinese Light finishing only third to Legatissimo, Hidden Universe gave him a second festival winner in the two mile handicap.
“It’s been an uphill struggle to keep this horse sound but he’s very courageous,” said Weld who dismissed any suggestion of disappointment at his strike rate to date this week. “They’re running super. We had three seconds on the first day. It’s much more competitive than years ago and I’ve always said I’m happy with a winner a day.”
JP McManus goes into today’s big-race on a hot-streak after picking up the opening two races yesterday including one with Jacksonslady who might yet get another shot at Plate glory.
The mare was third in the big chase last year and is second-reserve this time. But the 2013 Plate hero Carlingford Lough memorably got promoted from the reserves and with ground conditions officially good to firm in places yesterday defections can hardly be ruled out.
Jacksonslady would certainly bring the most current winning form if she joins her owner’s seven other declarations having got the full power-packed Barry Geraghty drive to hold off Cailin Annamh in last evening’s conditions chase.
Cailin Annamh’s jockey Robbie Power had earlier carried the McManus colours to success in the novice hurdle aboard Shield.
Bookmakers got another result in the seven-furlong handicap as Surreal scored by a length for Co Carlow based trainer Jane Foley. It was Foley’s first ever runner at Galway.
The winning 2-5 favourite Antique Platinum in the concluding maiden at Galway last night had to survive a lengthy stewards into a couple of cases of interference in the straight. Jockey Pat Smullen escaped punishment after explaining to officials that the filly proved to be a difficult ride and he took all measures possible to correct her. Antique Platinum won by two lengths from Henson and was Dermot Weld’s third winner so far this week.
Galway’s festival attendance was up for a second night running, a crowd of 19,156 up 908 on 2013. Tote turnover reached €723,830 compared to last year’s €645,911. The bookmaker was down slightly however to €1,232,503 from €1,254,283. The biggest betting race was the two mile handicap at €229,314.
A total of 7mms of water was planned for all tracks at Galway overnight and clerk of the course Lorcan Wyer said: “We will take another look at it in the morning. There’s nothing of note in terms of rain until Thursday afternoon and even then it might only be 5mms.”