Jonjo O’Neill enjoyed further success in what has already been a fabulous season for his yard as Shutthefrontdoor justified his position as 8 to 1 favourite in the Boylesports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse.
While O’Neill had already taken the famous prize in 2007 with Butler’s Cabin, it was somewhat surprisingly a first victory in the decorated career of Barry Geraghty as he stood in for the suspended Tony McCoy.
Shutthefrontdoor travelled well for most of the three miles and five furlongs but had to be driven hard on the run-in by his outstanding pilot to catch Golden Wonder and score by three-quarters of a length.
One of five horses running in the colours of O’Neill’s landlord JP McManus, he had started the season as a promising novice but made mistakes en-route to a sixth-placed finish in the National Hunt Chase.
Lightly-weighted pair Toon River and Clar Na Mionn cut out the running for the first circuit with the latter coming under severe pressure with four fences left to jump, and he was swallowed up by the closing pack.
With Shutthefrontdoor claiming the first prize of €141,000, he joins smart Cheltenham Festival winners More Of That, Taquin Du Seuil and Holywell in making a major contribution to the O’Neill yard this season.
“He was in a great position all the way and jumped really well,” said O’Neill.
“Everything went right for him. He has done nothing wrong all season.
“He had a great run at Cheltenham and after that we thought this was the race for him. Plan B didn’t work out too badly!
“He will have good rest and is hopefully okay and we can look forward to next season. He needed a big leap at the last, he got it and battled on really well.”
Geraghty said: “I’ve never even got close (to winning before) so to win it is brilliant.
“I thought turning in that I would win and then I was outpaced from the second-last, but going to the last I was getting going and I knew he was meeting it on a good stride a long way off.
“It means an awful lot – it’s brilliant.”
McManus was delighted to bag the prize but spared a thought for McCoy.
He said: “It’s a great race to win. Full marks to Jonjo, Barry and all the team at Jackdaws. It’s an exciting day.
“It’s disappointing for AP that he’s not here today as I’m sure he would have picked this horse. I wish both of them could have rode it but I feel sorry for AP that he’s not here.”
Geraghty put another British-trained winner on the card when helping his boss Nicky Henderson to a poignant one-two in the John & Chich Fowler Memorial EBF Mares Chase.
His mount, the versatile 2 to 1 favourite Une Artiste, held off a late rally from defending champion Nadiya De La Vega.
Henderson said: “When Nadiya De La Vega won last year, I didn’t come and I sat at home and cried. John and Chich were two of the greatest mates in the world.
“I knew after last year I had to be here. It’s a great race to win and an emotional occasion. Ironically I had the one-two and Jessie (Harrington, sister of John Fowler, and whose husband John died recently) had the third. They’re a wonderful family and I’ve know them for a very long time.”
Willie Mullins heaped the praise on Paul Townend, who continues to stand in for the injured Ruby Walsh and quickly took the first two Graded races.
The feature performance came from Thousand Stars (4 to 1), who has so often been a bit-part player in major events himself but laughed at the British 5-4 favourite Get Me Out Of Here as he took the Keelings Irish Strawberry Hurdle by 10 lengths.
Mullins said: “He must be an iron horse to do what he did!
“He had a very hard race at Aintree, but because of his age and the stage he is at in his career I decided to let him take his chance, and maybe I wouldn’t have done it with a young horse.
“With Punchestown being a week later this year, it means the race in France will come a week sooner, so we might skip Punchestown and go for the Prix La Barka and then the French Champion.
“I’ve a list of people who want him when he is retired for a hack, but I might have to jump the queue myself!”
Ivan Grozny (5 to 1), who was aiming to rediscover his crisp early juvenile form, just held off Kitten Rock by a head in the Tayto Hurdle.
“He is starting to look like the horse we thought he was earlier in the season,” said Mullins
“I don’t know whether Punchestown will come too soon, we will see how he comes out of this. He is an out and out hurdler.”
On Townend, he said: “It is fantastic for Paul when Ruby is out, and he is getting the benefit.
“He plays second fiddle to him all season so I am delighted for him, and he has to make hay when the sun shines.”
Robbie Power and Cara's Oscar (16to 1) won a quickly-changing Rathbarry & Glenview Studs Handicap Hurdle while 2 to 1 favourite Free Expression joined Simonsig, Last Instalment and Pandorama on the roll of honour for the Racing Post Champion Point-to-Point INH Flat Race.