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Cheltenham prospects give Down Royal crowds a treat

By Ron McKnight

The dew was still on the turf as Mike Todd inspected his racecourse yesterday, noting a 'To Do' list following the previous day's exceptionally successful conclusion to the two-day Down Royal Faetival.

The sun was still shining but no racing, no crowds and no cheering home the winners... however there was still a glow of a great day on the course manager's smiling face.

Todd was delighted 12,000 racegoers over the two days got to watch Cheltenham Festival aimed horses at a fraction of the price - the parade ring six to eight deep with spectators to see the stars.

Todd said: "The objective was achieved - everyone from owners, trainers, sponsors and the public had a fabulous day - so did I for that matter! We're in the entertainment business. While the racing takes centre stage it's five minutes of action, then there is 25 minutes in interaction - the social scene with friends old and new.

"The compliments we received from leading industry figures was much appreciated. They were amazed at the size of the crowds and the condition of the track. If the public's happy, I'm happy."

Saturday's near record crowd certainly got value for money from some epic racing.

The first two winners were owned by JP McManus whose Espoir D'Allen, winner of the opening juvenile hurdle, is 16/1 to win the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham next March. And second race winner, Ten Ten, the other winner in McManus' colours, backed from 20s to 9/2, looks like a major player in future novice hurdles.

Road To Respect and Zabana are the pair to take out of the Champion Chase with no disrespect to the winner, Outlander whose trainer Gordon Elliott again recorded six winners at the meeting while on route back from the Breeders Cup fixture in the USA.

Trainer Noel Meade believes Road To Respect could be better left handed and that factor could have cost him at Down Royal's right-handed course on Saturday - but not come the Cheltenham Festival which, of course, is left.

Zabana, which finished third, will also win his share of major races.

The very disappointing favourite in the feature, Our Duke, which finished last, was examined by Turf Club vets who found the horse scoped abnormally post-race while jockey Robbie Power, who partnered the Irish National winner and leading Gold Cup fancy, reported to the Stewards' Secretaries that his mount never travelled and never jumped throughout. Trainer Jessica Harrington said yesterday: "He's sound this morning. It's back to the drawing board."

Ryanair supremo Michael O'Leary won the big race for the fifth time and sixth out of the past seven years with Outlander pipping Road To Respect at the post.

And O'Leary completed a big race double with the exciting grey, Disko, making all the running to win the Graded Novice Chase. Disko figures prominently in the betting for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, duly sponsored by the owner.

Todd was without a sponsor for the Novice contest until his long-time pal Scott Hamilton, an established figure in the car trade returned from Britain to set up, the online go-to site for car repairs and parts.

Hamilton signed up to endorse the supporting feature and expressed himself thrilled by the coverage received by his new venture via the association with the Lisburn course and his old friend.

Mike Todd, in a similar fashion to Aidan O'Brien, is always keen to stress that Down Royal's success story is down to a great team effort from the office to the lads working with course foreman, Carson Lyons, who knows every blade of grass following his long tenure being responsible for the condition of the racing surface.

A straw poll of hardened punters, fashionable young ladies and sponsors gained the respective comments: "Great day"..."Smashing, can't wait until next year" and "It's an immense credit to all concerned - a flagship event during the year."

The Maze manager is rightly delighted the Festival event is now firmly established as a prime date in Northern Ireland's social calendar.

However he added: "We will shortly have a post event review then it's down to planning for next year. We even managed to get the weather right on the day so someone up there was on our side!"

Belfast Telegraph


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