App' maps a smart route to Festival
THERE aren't too many graded races in Ireland that neither Willie Mullins nor Ruby Walsh have not won -- and up until yesterday the Grade Two Matty Ryan Memorial Kinloch Brae Chase was one of them.
However, despite a drastic mistake at the third last, Gold Cup and Ryanair Chase entry Apt Approach justified his position at the head of the betting to break the duck of Mullins and Walsh in the Thurles feature.
The nine-year-old was completing a hat-trick of wins over fences since November and, in beating Follow The Plan yesterday, he booked his place at the Cheltenham Festival, although another outing on these shores in the meantime is likely.
Unsurprisingly, Apt Approach remained unchanged for his possible Festival targets, with Paddy Power leaving him at 33/1 for the Ryanair Chase and double that for the Gold Cup at 66/1.
Of the 9/10 favourite, winning trainer Mullins said afterwards: "He'll either go for the Ryanair Chase or the Gold Cup -- he's too high for handicaps.
"Maybe the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park next month could be an option before Cheltenham.
"He must be a fair horse to win after making a mistake like that (third last). He's certainly improving."
That was the highlight of an otherwise frustrating day for both Mullins and Walsh, who, despite being involved in either the favourite or second favourite with the rest of their respective interests throughout the card, failed to add to Apt Approach's win in the feature.
Davy Russell further extended his lead at the head of the jockeys' championship with a double on the card, the first leg of which came in the opener as Folsom Blue followed up his Limerick win by claiming the opening novice hurdle for trainer Conor O'Dwyer (pictured above).
The five-year-old son of Old Vic was quite an impressive victor, although only four finished from the eight that set out, and the Gigginstown Stud-owned gelding had nine-and-a-half lengths to spare at the end of proceedings.
Russell's double was completed in the Grade Three Coolmore National Hunt Sires EBF Mares Novice Chase as Knockfierna and her connections got due compensation following her antics at Limerick. The 6/4 favourite dramatically ducked out at the second last fence at Limerick when well in contention against Sir Des Champs over Christmas, but in quite impressive style she accounted for 25/1 shot Belle Brook back in second.
A return to Limerick is on her agenda, according to winning trainer Charles Byrnes, who was full of praise for the rider who is 1/3 to be crowned Ireland's champion jockey at the end of this season.
After Follow The Plan finished second to Apt Approach in his bid to win back-to-back Kinloch Brae titles, trainer Oliver McKiernan had a reason to celebrate as Quietly Fancied scored in the WT O'Grady Memorial Novice Chase. A massive 51 lengths was the winning margin as Quietly Fancied came home ahead of the only other finisher, Glenlo Abbey, after Bishopsfurze, who appeared to be going best of all, exited at the second last.
Tom Taaffe's Argocat was a game winner of the www.thurlesrace.ie Maiden Hurdle and he may get an entry in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham, according to the trainer, while Dermot Weld's Merchant Royal landed the concluding Hunters Chase in the hands of Robbie McNamara, just repelling Katie Walsh on Viking Splash for Shark Hanlon.