Ulster Grand National success is on Horizons
The Toals Bookmakers Ulster Grand National at Downpatrick produced drama after the winning post when the placings of the first two were reversed – resulting in Ulster-trained Hidden Horizons, ridden by Paul Carberry, being awarded the big race after a prolonged stewards' inquiry.
The principal pair had drawn 20 lengths clear of rivals on the downhill run after jumping the regulation fence and Unoccupied, trained by Eoghan O'Grady, had got the better of the Stuart Crawford-trained runner at the last fence, getting home by one and a half lengths after a closely run contest.
However, after the uphill finish took its toll, the stewards decided the winner had interfered with the Larne horse and to the delight of the large contingent of local supporters waiting in the paddock, the result went their way and they erupted with delight.
Crawford, who also landed the St Patrick's Day feature at the Maze with Yes Tom, said: "She always runs an honest race – she has only ran badly on one occasion.
"The ground was just okay for her thankfully. I had said to the owners after she placed here that the Ulster National would be her target.
"She has won a point to point at Armagh which has the same stiff uphill finish."
Unoccupied would have supplied O'Grady with his biggest success to date and had finished runner-up in the Cork National, but the connections were anxious about the result of the stewards' inquiry as they waited for the verdict in the winners enclosure with the "winning" photographs having already been organised and taken.
Racing got under way with Taglietelle, Carberry aboard for what turned out to be the first leg of a treble, registering a 12 length victory for trainer Gordon Elliott, relegating the favourite Sunsettorise into second.
Elliott commented: "Paul gave him a great ride.
"He never jumped at Navan but I think he'll be a better horse on better ground and he's definitely not a bad type."
The trainer/rider duo quickly doubled up when Un Beau Matin was the winner of the novice hurdle in the Gigginstown Stud/Michael O'Leary colours, with the race having just four runners due to withdrawals.
The winner made all the running early on and cantered to an almost flawless success – the only mistake a peck on landing after the final flight.
In contrast to the dominance of the first two races, a photo was required to separate the first three home in the handicap hurdle.
Just two necks separated the principals with the Arthur Moore-trained and Gareth Malone-ridden Back Off Mate beating Mighty Whitey, with Micky Butler in the saddle, into second and Theoystercatcher, with Shane Shortall on board, filling the third position.
A stewards' inquiry was quickly announced regarding possible interference in the closing stages of the race, but the placings remained unaltered after the stewards had conferred.
Presswell Lad, trained and ridden by Butler, supplied compensation for the rider after that disappointment and was the convincing winner of the beginners' chase when beating the James Lambe-trained Jim Bowie into second place.
Easyontheeye, top amateur Kevin Power in the saddle, ended as the convincing winner of the hunter chase.