THE rise and rise of Doneraile jockey Darragh O’Keeffe continued with a sensational victory aboard A Plus Tard in the final strides of a thrilling renewal of the Grade One Savills Chase at Leopardstown.
The win in the feature race of the Leopardstown Racing Festival was the latest chapter of another rising star of Irish racing. The Henry De Bromhead trained gelding stayed on from another parish to snatch victory in the shadows of the post.
O'Keeffe who was having his first ride in a Grade One said: "He did everything right, he travelled and I thought we went a really good gallop. I knew Rachael (Blackmore) said to me beforehand that she was going to sit upsides in front (on Minella Indo), and she was only a couple of lengths ahead of me so I wasn't worried.”
O’Keeffe had also teamed up with Kanturk trainer Michael Winters and Chatam Street Lad for a famous victory at Cheltenham in mid-December. Winters is one of the shrewdest trainers in the game and recently predicted that O’Keeffe can go all the way to the top. Confidence is everything in sport and this young man was on such a high after the race in his debrief to the press at Leopardstown.
"When I gave A Plus Tard a squeeze after jumping the second last, he picked up and he galloped right to the line. After the back of the last I did think I was going to get there. It was brilliant and I'm absolutely over the moon. I can't thank Henry de Bromhead enough - it's my first Grade One winner and my first winner for him. This lad had a real, live chance.”
The Champion Hurdle picture is a bit muddled after the favourite Epatante was beaten by Silver Streak on St Stephens Day while Sharjah and Patrick Mullins made it a fabulous hat-trick when displaying a fantastic turn of foot in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Runner-up in the Champion Hurdle to Epatante in March, Sharjah has not been sent off favourite for any of his wins. Gordon Elliott’s Abacadabras disappointed and never looked like winning at any stage while the favourite Saint Roi was also disappointing. Paddy Power cut the winner to 8-1 from 16s to go one better than last season in the Champion Hurdle.
Appreciate It was another impressive winner over Christmas as he took the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle (Grade 1) by nine lengths for the all-conquering Willie Mullins and Paul Townend combination. The Jeremy gelding, runner-up in last season’s Cheltenham bumper and a winner on hurdles debut at Cork in November will be targeted at the Supreme Novice hurdle which is the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival.
The Champion Chase market changed significantly with the emphatic victory of Chacun Pour Soi in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase. The 4/7 favourite under Paul Townend made no mistake with a superb round of jumping.
Townend’s mount was particularly good over the last two fences that were taken and turned for home in front and travelling by far the best. Following the disappointing effort from Altior at Kempton the Willie Mullins trained chaser has moved to the head of the betting as a general 6/4 chance.
There was a mild upset in the King George at Kempton with the victory of Frodon and Byrony Frost. Sent off at 20/1, Frodon led from start to finish under a brilliant ride from the darling of British jumps fans. Frodon, previously successful under Frost at this Grade One level when they won the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last year, was delivering a 12th victory in the Boxing Day showpiece for trainer Paul Nicholls.
Curtis said: “Given the lockdown in March, I set out to pass the 100 winners mark so to have surpassed that along with the many other talented jockeys in the weighing room at the moment, such as Hollie (Doyle) and Tom (Marquand), is a great achievement. For us to have reached those figures, all things considered, is fantastic for British racing.”
Curtis enjoyed three Group successes in June, the Pavilion and Sagaro Stakes at Newcastle with Dubai Station and Nayef Road respectively, before having his first Royal Ascot winner with Dandalla in the Albany Stakes.
“The standout win of the year for me has to be the Royal Ascot victory. To ride in those races and on those occasions is one of the main reasons I moved over to England in the first place, so to have got my first Royal Ascot win this year was a special moment.”