Sunday 17 December 2017

Winters' historic double

Trainer Michael Winters. Picture: Sportsfile
Trainer Michael Winters. Picture: Sportsfile

Having saddled last year's Guinness Galway Hurdle winner Rebel Fitz to win the novice chase on the card, Michael Winters completed the most memorable of doubles by winning the Guinness Galway Hurdle for a second consecutive year, this time with the top-class mare Missunited in the hands of Robbie Power.

Few will forget the scenes of unbridled joy when Rebel Fitz won the race last year and within minutes of Missunited going past the post a comfortable three-and-three-quarter lengths ahead of Flaxen Flare, Winters was again held aloft on shoulders as his travelling support sent the parade ring into raptures again.

A high-class mare on the Flat, Missunited's owners Dan and Vanessa Hutch were never overly keen to run the six-year-old over hurdles but the change of heart certainly paid off as she landed the €260,000 race.

Winters became the first man since Noel Meade in 1983 to win the race two years running, but on that occasion Meade was doing it with the same horse, and not since 1957 and 1958 has a trainer sent out two different horses to win the race two years in a row, that being Patrick Sleator with Tymon Castle and Knight Errant.

There was no hiding how highly regarded Winters holds the mare afterwards: "I'd love to see her go to Cheltenham and come up that hill. The only mare around I'd be afraid of is Annie Power, and it would have to be soft for her to definitely beat us..."



A Grade Three winner as a novice over hurdles back in March, Missunited was also second in three listed races on the flat this year and Winters was always confident that the mare would win the race.

"She was always a good mare and I'd love to see her on good ground which I was prepared for today, but she handled the ground well all the same," he said. "She stays so well so when I saw her coming down the hill I was confident when I saw her travelling well."

Winters already has a race mapped out for the latest Galway Hurdle winner.

"She's in a listed race at the Curragh in two weeks and she'll go there. She's a flat-bred mare and the owner was anxious about going jumping at this stage I suppose. But I have had this race in mind for 12 months and in fairness to the owner he maps out the flat races for the year."

Power previously won the Galway Plate in 2003 and was clearly delighted to add Ireland's richest race to his CV.

"She's tough as old boots and that is the one thing Seamie Heffernan told me going out. She won easily and travelled super the whole way and kept pulling it out."

Winters joked that he had learned from the experiences of winning the race last year when saying: "I mucked out 20 stables after Rebel Fitz won last year but this year I was ready for it! I put in a contingency plan and have a good few people lined up to go in in the morning so we'll just have to see what happens."

Earlier in the day Rebel Fitz was a rather facile winner under Barry Geraghty and won in the manner that his handicap mark suggested he should have and, according to Winters, he will stick to the novice chase ranks.

"His class got him through the ground, but it's not that bad. They are able to get through it but he schooled on similar ground around Dromahane and he was fine. We won't go for the handicaps now, we'll stick to the novice races."

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