Smiler shines to lead the field in tight finish
Smiler, on a summer's day at Downpatrick, showed his liking for the venue with a repeat success, having won a bumper at the course on his last start.
The winner of yesterday's Mainden Hurdle owned, trained and ridden by top amateur Micky O'Connor was always at the head of affairs but Oscar Vespasian made steady progress to go fifth on the downhill run and challenged at the final flight but as the pair climbed the hill Smiler just held on to score by a neck.
Cork-based O'Connor said: "It's a pity the track is so far away as he loves it here. He very honest and hard on himself.
"The management have done a great job watering – I would call the going good rather than good/firm.
"He's a summer horse and I might aim at the Galway Festival."
Sligo-based handler Mark McNiff, who has an excellent record of success at the course, sent out Penny's Tune to land the mares handicap hurdle.
Kathys Girl challenged but the winner eased into the lead three from home and was always in command thereafter with just the final two flights to negotiate with Derek Fox aboard.
"On her first run for me she ran well in a race here last time," said McNiff.
"You've to talk nice to her! I thought if she repeated that run she would have a chance."
The temperature increased during the afternoon and the handicap hurdle, marking the departure of course administrator Catherine Kelly, added to racing pulses as the Oliver Brady-trained Shabra's Bertolini and House Limit could not be separated by the judge and a dead heat resulted.
Shabra's Bertolini, with Brian Hayes aboard, led as the front-running Cerca Trova faded but approaching the penultimate flight Conor Maxwell on House Limit challenged and got to the front in the uphill finish but the Brady runner rallied and the pair shared the spoils.
House Limit trainer John Larkin said: "It's a pleasure to dead heat with Oliver (Brady)."
Anthony McCann, representing the Cavan trainer, said: "At last he's done it (Shabra's Bertolini's first win from 21 starts).
"I would have settled for a dead heat passing the post."
Enjoying the sunshine at the County Down course was Patron of Downpatrick Mrs Eveleigh Brownlow who was the recipient of an MBE in the Honours List.
Mighty Whitey supplied a local success landing the Beginners Chase for Draperstown handler Noel Kelly by half-a-length from Darwins Theory in a hard-fought tussle to the line.
The winner made all the running but was joined by the runner-up at the final fence but jockey, Mick Darcy had enough in reserved to hold the belated challenge.
The Co Derry trainer who has been enjoying considerable cross -channel success with the winner and Back To Bracka in recent weeks said: "For his first time over fences he ran very well. You wouldn't put him over the bigger fences – he'll run at the smaller tracks.
"He loves that ground. This track suits him.
"He could go back to Sligo and he's entered this week but it's unlikely he will go there. He's very game. Mick (Darcy) said he wanted to go long at everything. I wasn't sure he would get the trip," Kelly said.
Coldstonesober trained by John Finn in Co Tipperary was another narrow winner beating King High by a length in the other handicap chase while The Baler supplied another winner for Johnny Burke with only a length separating the first two home.