Champion jockey O’Connor just one short of magic race milestone

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Richard and Jim McLaughlin head the North Down Hunt point to point committee while operating the Wyse Byse chain in the province and they made another wise decision at the weekend.

The decision was taken to alter the start time and putting racing back by an hour to accommodate the public and bookmakers at the Kirkistown point to point resulting in a much improved turnout.

The local point to point attracted an extra-large attendance in anticipation of Irish Champion rider Derek O’Connor recording a thousand winners at the North Down venue.

However, despite the perfect day with the sun shining the top rider left the latest Northern region fixture on the 999 winner mark courtesy of a facile victory by Muirhead in the open race for Larne trainer, Stuart Crawford.

The winner now unbeaten in points since he reverted from the track improved third – three from home before readily asserting from the game front running Sole Witness at the final fence and cantering into the lead.

The Larne trainer still confined to home with a broken leg advised by phone: “He did it nicely and Derek was impressed. We will take it step by step – he has done all that has been asked. He would appreciate better ground and will get an entry in the Cheltenham Foxhunters at the Festival next month but I’ll discuss future plans with Joe and Pat Sloan [owners]. We will play it by ear and I am convinced he’ll improve for better ground.”

The ten times Irish Champion point to point rider registered the magic thousand winner land mark in the first race at the Cragmore fixture in County Limerick when riding a treble to the delight of his family, friends and racegoers and received a prolonged reception in the winner’s enclosure to mark an amazing feat.

The opening four year maiden produced a useful winner in the Ryanair colours of Michael O’Leary with the Gordon Elliott trained, Petit Mounchoir with Roger Quinlan aboard readily denying Dangerous Games – the runner- up should gain compensation and winning brackets in the coming weeks with the same remark applying to the locally trained third. Katiebyrne – five times placed landed the mares maiden for Leading Points handler, Colin Bowe with trainer responsible for the one-two in the contest.

Bowe and stable jockey Barry O’Neill quickly doubled up in the geldings maiden when Move To The Groove gave a bold front running display to beat Wither Or Not by a distance and appears a horse with a future in points having started in point to point prior to running in a couple of bumpers.

The runner-up Wither Or Not is also one for the notebook.

Barry O’Neill’s hat trick on the day was completed when scoring on Mister To Mister when only a length separated the first three home but his feat was somewhat ignored as racegoers waited for the thousand winner from the champion while the winner is locally-owned and trained by Shane Gault.

Sunny West proved an ultra impressive winner of the finale with Pat Collins aboard being owned and trained by Rodney Arthur – himself a former formidable force in the saddle in years past and said: “I always thought a lot of this fellow and he enjoyed today’s better ground and has strengthened up. He has also benefitted from the experience of a couple of runs. He would be for sale now but if not sold could go for a winner’s contest.”

Bookmaker Tommy Donnelly provided a new innovation with a television displaying runners and riders which also supplied close circuit coverage of races in progress and he is prepared to make the facility available at other courses.

Away Bookmaker, Franco Hughes again supplied the prizes for the best turned out horses.