Byrnes dances to Alfa's Beat
Trainer 'over moon' after grey overcomes weight and ground to land Kerry National
Winning five races on the trot is an achievement in itself, regardless of the standard of contest, but to continue the sequence with a win in the €160,000 Guinness Kerry National further emphasises the quality of Charles Byrnes' training abilities.
Alfa Beat won on his first start for Byrnes back in June when claiming a handicap chase at Roscommon off a mark of 92, and yesterday was a somewhat cosy winner of the feature race at the Listowel Harvest Festival.
Barry Geraghty took the somewhat brave but evidently worthwhile decision to pull his mount out wide throughout in a search for better ground and, in running out a three-and-a-half-length winner, Alfa Beat proved he not only handled the step up in trip but got through on the ground also.
Geraghty admitted himself that he was a shade surprised at the horse's ability to handle the easier underfoot conditions.
"He struggled a little bit through the race," Geraghty said. "The ground was a bit soft for him and he wasn't travelling as easy as you might like so I was kind of surprised the way he came home."
Going into the race with a 17lb penalty for his win in Galway was a help in getting the horse into the race, but was too much of a burden in some people's eyes.
The grey, who carries the colours of Barry Healy, proved that was no obstacle, however, and Geraghty, who was riding the horse for the first time, summed it up nicely.
"He had a great chance, but with a 17lb penalty for winning at Galway you could either say he's only six and improving or say that could be the end of him," said the Meathman. "But the way he won you couldn't knock him, he was dead game. He has loads of options ... the world is his oyster."
Byrnes has the Cheltenham Festival as a long-term target, but is fully aware that Alfa Beat has a bag of choices for the future.
"I am absolutely over the moon," Byrnes admitted. "It makes up for seven-years ago when we had the race won with Cloudy Bays but he unseated the rider at the second last.
"We were very disappointed that day but today is unbelievable."
Byrnes also revealed his reservations about the ground conditions prior to the race.
"We thought the ground might have been gone on us this morning," Byrnes said. "Barry made a brave decision as he said he wasn't really travelling on the soft ground so he pulled him out and he got going then so I'd say good ground is a must for the horse.
"He's still only a novice and I doubt if there will be a higher rated novice this side of Christmas."
However, despite his clear ability over the larger obstacles, Byrnes may toy with going back over hurdles.
"We thought he was well handicapped originally off 92 (over fences). He's only six so he was entitled to improve. He's a horse that's very well handicapped over hurdles compared to his chase mark and we may look at something there as well. My long-term plan is the four-mile race at Cheltenham," Byrnes concluded.
JP McManus had the second and third with Tony McCoy doing miracles to stay in the saddle at times on Dancing Tornado who was sent off the 7/2 favourite, while it was a game effort from Galway Plate winner Finger Onthe Pulse to finish third.
There was an impressive winning hurdling debut for Edward O'Grady's still unbeaten The Real Article who warranted the decision to switch by opening his account.
The five-year-old was very likeable in winning three bumpers and O'Grady, who also bred him, admitted: "It isn't often you can name a horse that goes the right way. He's not the finished article, but he is The Real Article!"
One more run is likely to be his lot until the spring where both Cheltenham and Aintree will be considered and winning jockey Andrew McNamara was suitably impressed.
"He was schooling well and jumped very well for a lad first time. He went around there like a handicapper considering he had to take it up three out and jump his own way home. Hopefully it's onwards and upwards," said the country's current leading jockey.
Paul Gilligan has high hopes too for One Cool Tornado who won the novice hurdle under Ruby Walsh.
Gilligan plans to send his charge down a similar route to his Cheltenham Festival winner of last year, Berties Dream, by heading to Prestbury Park in November before returning for the Albert Bartlett or the Neptune Hurdle back at the Festival in March.
The good run of Christy Roche and Alan Crowe continued in the handicap chase courtesy of Clarkey, while the concluding bumper was won by Red Tiger and the father and son duo of Willie and Patrick Mullins.
Pat Smullen went eight clear in his quest to regain his crown as Champion Flat Jockey as Qubuh won the opening race of the day for Dermot Weld, but Johnny Murtagh closed the gap back to seven just over an hour later as Clearwater Bay (Aidan O'Brien) justified favouritism under a power-packed ride from the reigning champion.