Leanne bests weak Leopardstown field
Racing:Bill Harney’s star mare Leanne was produced with a late run to land a weakened two-mile-five-furlong Carrickmines Handicap Chase at Leopardstown.
The race was shaping up to be a decent affair following the declaration stage, but the late withdrawals of Roberto Goldback, Follow The Plan, Organisedconfusion and Montan rendered it far less competitive.
That said, nothing should be taken away from Leanne, whose previous four successes had all come at Clonmel.
Colbert Station had already been heavily backed in the morning prior to the non-runners and he was sent off the 5-4 favourite for Ted and Ruby Walsh. But while he travelled strongly for a long way, his effort petered out and hehad to make do with minor honours in third.
Head Waiter put up a bold display from the front, but agonisingly for his supporters, Leanne came fast and late after the final fence under Bryan Cooper to get up by half a length.
There is a chance she could now be Cheltenham Festival-bound for the JLT Specialty Handicap Chase.
“I was a bit concerned about the ground coming here but Bryan said he was going to drop her in and take his time,” said Harney. “She is in that three-mile handicap chase at Cheltenham on the Tuesday and we’ll decide about that later in the week.”
Barry Geraghty enjoyed a double on the card, kicked off by the Charles Byrnes-trained Pittoni in the Ballsbridge Hurdle.
Ridden positively, the 6-5 favourite gradually cranked up the pace and a fine leap at the last flight sealed a comfortable two-length victory over Won In The Dark.
The runner-up’s rider Andrew Lynch was stood down for the day afterwards, still feeling an arm injury suffered in a fall at Navan on Saturday.
Andrew Leigh, rider of the third home Oilily, was given a four-day careless riding ban.
Geraghty dismounted the winner shortly after the line but while initial reports suggested he had broken down, those fears were allayed to a degree by winning owner Paddy Wilmott.
He said: “Charles said he thinks Pittoni might have hit a nerve and we’ll get him checked him out in the morning to see for sure if there is damage done.”
An hour later Geraghty struck gold on Slieveardagh in the Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders Fund Novice Chase.
Donnas Palm threatened to make a race of it early in the home straight, but Edward O’Grady’s Slieveardagh stamped his authority shortly afterwards, pulling five lengths clear at the line.
O’Grady said: “Slieveardagh shouldn’t really have been running against Donnas Palm handicap-wise but I thought Donnas Palm had a very hard race at Navan and he is probably better at Navan than he is here.
“My horse is better on that ground but I don’t know where I’ll go from here. He has a preference for going left handed, which doesn’t help with Punchestown and Fairyhouse and while he is in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham, I doubt he’ll go there.”
Sheer Genius (6-1) recorded the first win of his career at the 17th attempt and also gave young rider George Murphy his first success in the Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders Fund Maiden Hurdle.
The jockey’s father and winning trainer John Joseph Murphy said: “I’m delighted. He’ll probably go for a novice hurdle but we’ll see what the handicapper does first.
“George is only 18 but is quite tall. He has ridden in points too but this is his first winner.”
Steel Park (16-1) emerged triumphant following a thrilling finish to the www.leopardstown.com Handicap Hurdle, getting the better of a prolonged battle with The Way We Were by a nose.
Winning trainer Sean Byrne said: “Steel Park just got there and was entitled to that.
“He has always loved this place and was second in good bumpers here — he’ll probably go to Punchestown now.”
Mr Eko (13-2) took top honours in the Follow Leopardstown On Facebook Handicap Chase, while Champion Bumper entrant Jezki (even-money favourite) led home previously unraced stablemate The Big Easy in the concluding event.
The Jessica Harrington-trained Jezki was cut to 14-1 from 20s by Stan James, and left unchanged at 16-1 by Paddy Power, for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.
Harrington said: “I’m delighted with both horses. I didn’t really want to run them against each other but I had no real option.
“Jezki is a possible for Cheltenham now as I don’t think he did any more than a gallop there. He learned a bit more and I think a faster pace will suit him better.”