Christmas came early for Newry trainer Liam Lennon when Maple Valley Gold sprang a 14/1 surprise in the mares maiden hurdle at Downpatrick – and could now run at Down Royal's big Boxing Day meeting.
The winner was partnered by amateur Rachael Blackmore who has been enjoying her best ever season on the local point to point circuit and scored on the mare at the Maralin meeting last month.
The local horse was prominent from half way and, following a protracted battle with Seancill Oir, had half a length to spare at the post.
Owner Patrick Heaney said: "She's a good mare and I bred her. The dam (Deerpark Gale) died six to eight months ago and I also have Maple Valley Gale out of her.
"I have three in training and Rachel was very good on her. I'll talk to Liam but we might get her out again at Christmas."
The Co Down handler confirmed he would look for a similar opportunity – possibly Down Royal on Boxing Day.
Star jockey Ruby Walsh travelled to the Co Down course for one mount, only for Hold Em Cowboy to fall, gifting the race to 18/1 shot Slew Charm and supplying another local victory – the winner trained by Sarah Dawson in Banbridge and ridden by Ulster Region point-to-point champion Noel McParlan.
Mrs Dawson said: "That was a long time coming. It's my first National Hunt winner – I've had point-to-point and flat winners.
"His form has been rock solid, he has been so unlucky in running the last few times.
"I didn't know if he would like Downpatrick – horses either love it or hate it here. I've got half a dozen National Hunt horses and half a dozen for the flat."
James, trained by Ian Ferguson at Cullybackey and so impressive in his two point-to-point starts, was equally classy on his course debut when easily landing the concluding hunter chase.
The winner, owned and bred by the Love family from Newtownards, got an ultra-patient ride from William Thompson who is based with the Co Antrim trainer.
Ferguson, who has had a couple of champion hunter chasers in recent seasons including Joe Blake and Cheltenham Festival Foxhunters winner Zemsky, said: "He is a lovely horse – progressive and has a bit of class.
"He is not a great work horse at home but does it on the course. I'm not sure where next – I'll discuss that plan with the owners."
The Leslie Young-trained Rasco, with Robbie Moran on board, battled to victory in the opener.
Moran said: "He's only a baby and he'll learn an awful lot today."
Arnaud, with Davy Russell in the saddle, easily claimed the conditions hurdle for Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary.
Russell said: "If they were all like that the job would be easy. The track, ground and conditions suited him. I'm sure he'll finish up at Cheltenham."
Kylecrue triumphed for trainer John Ryan and Fermanagh rider Ryan Treacy who had his 13th winner on Friday 13.