Ulster trainers are not adverse to travel – even during holiday periods, writes Ron McKnight.
New Year’s Day saw father and son team, Keith and Marshall Watson split the work load with Keith travelling to Fairyhouse with a runner while Marshall took Tyrone House, owned by his father and mother to Tramore with an almost six hour journey to the venue.
However, the return journey was made easier after the ten year old won the concluding chase with Marshall aboard and supplying the local rider with his first winner on the course proper after several wins in point to points.
Tyrone House made all the running and rallied under a determined ride to regain the lead close home in the very testing conditions.
Watson Junior said post-race: “That is my first winner on the racecourse, I’ve had four point-to-point winners. It makes up for Heavenly Brook yesterday [runner-up at Punchestown for the fifth time] who keeps finishing second.
“This fellow has been a grand servant to us. He was third in a hurdle and he was second in a point-to-point so he deserved the win today. He fought back on the run-in and he was very brave. He won over three mile one in England so he stays all day.
“Mum and dad fund the whole thing, so a big thanks must go to them. I’ve had a few near misses in the past. It took me five hours to get down here today so that will shorten the journey home.”
Tramore also saw Crossgar trainer, Colin Mc Bratney having to settle for second in the feature chase when impressive Kirkistown point to point winner. Marito which had won the race the previous year was denied by Roi du Mee – the latter winner of the Down Royal Festival feature Chase in 2013.
Downpatrick trainer, Brian Hamilton was another on the road over the holidays but luck had deserted him with the talented Wither Hills a first fence faller while Jimmy Two Times fell at the final flight when clear and the likely winner at Leopardstown on Monday.
County Tyrone trainer, Andy Oliver was another Ulster handler to start the New Year with a winner when Heart In The Air justified support to favourite in the finale at Dundalk on Friday evening with Conor Hoban in the saddle.
The Caledon trainer advised: “She did it well. She’d never gone on the surface so we were a bit tentative. She showed a bit of form last year and we liked her. She’s a good dual purpose filly and she’s had a couple of runs over hurdles. We’ll probably leave her now until the grass.”
Larne trainer Stuart Crawford was another busy over the festive period and while Ardmillan won at Down Royal on Boxing Day, the local trainer failed to receive the credit due when Glenquest finished third in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow last week.
The local horse looking set to record victory after the final fence only to be caught near the line. Crawford moved on to Scotland on New Year’s Day in a bid for a repeat in the Ayr feature hurdle race only to have to settled for a close second with Strongpoint.
Newcastle on Saturday past provided Draperstown trainer Noel Kelly with another winner in the UK when Milan Flyer with Stephen Fox aboard proved the easy winner of the handicap hurdle to record back-to-back victories cross channel having won at Uttoexter last month.
Stephen Fox doubled up at the meeting when scoring on The Way It Works – trained at Sligo by Mark McNiff and endorsing the promise when third in the Archie Watson Memorial bumper at the Down Royal Festival and having already won a Bangor bumper.
The new point to point season got underway on Sunday at Tinahealy and Banbridge trainer, Jerry Cosgrave landed the first race of the new year when Margaret’s Rose made a winning debut in the mares maiden with Newry rider and former Ulster Champion Noel McParlan in the saddle.
The pair prevailing by a neck in a close finish while the trainer/rider combination will be in action at Thurles this week with the trainer’s stable star – the high class, Mount Collah.