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Kelly makes it family affair as Kennedy hits double

By Ron McKnight

Two rising stars sparkled at Ulster's season opener at Down Royal, Jack Kennedy landing a double and Stephen Kelly - nephew of trainer Noel Kelly - riding his first ever winner.

Finea, trained in Armagh by owner Keith Watson and partnered to perfection by talented teen Kennedy, landed the valuable feature, the Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Chase - as predicted in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph.

Finea completed a double for the gifted Kennedy, who also rode Ulster-owned Steamboat Bill to victory in the opening Sean Graham Bookmakers Maiden Hurdle.

In the feature, Finea swooped in the closing stages to claim the race in style.

Marshall Watson, assistant trainer to his father Keith, said: "We had been running him over the wrong trip - two miles six on that ground.

"Tramore was cancelled on New Year's Day so we went to Naas for a two mile race and that was a bit of a fluke.

"He'll be kept busy. Two miles is as far as he wants on that ground but he could go two and a half or two six on better ground.

"There's another Martinstown race in Clonmel or Downpatrick would be ideal - depending on the ground.

"It's a poignant day as this is Rodney Watson Memorial Chase day and he was dad's cousin.

"The breeder of Finea, Billy Vance from Fermanagh, passed away last week."

In the opener, Steamboat Bill led just before the final flight in the hands of Kennedy.

Winning trainer Gordon Elliott commented: "Jack showed why he's going to be good, he kept rowing away and pushing.

As for Steamboat Bill, Elliott added: "I'd say we'll give him a little break and wait for better ground. I'd say he wants further."

The winner is owned by Brian McKnight from Bleary, Waringstown who advised the horse was bought for him by Glengormley bloodstock agent Kevin Ross.

The penultimate flight was bypassed with jockey Sean Flanagan receiving treatment after being unseated at the first flight and the rider was stood down for the rest of the day.

Angus Milan, trained at Draperstown by Noel Kelly and partnered by his nephew Stephen, made all the running to claim the Silks@downroyal Novice Handicap Hurdle.

Angus Milan, owned by Ulsterman Victor McCrea (pictured receiving the trophy from Down Royal's Caroline Todd), was following up success at the course on Boxing Day.

Full credit to the winning rider who was recording his first victory but kept his cool when challenged at the final flight.

Noel Kelly said: "That's definitely his trip. He'll not run for five weeks now. Stevie did a good job as I didn't want it turning into a sprint. He's my brother's son and works full-time for me. He rides out every day for me - he has done a lot of pony racing."

Crossgar handler Colin Mc Bratney supplied the second local success of the day when Topper Thornton showed his liking for the Lisburn venue when following up victory at the Northern Ireland Festival in the handicap chase.

McBratney said: "He did it well. The last day (Thurles) was a no go. He hated the sticky ground and never travelled or jumped. I'm well pleased. The intention is to give him a break now. He likes it round here."

Venitien De Mai won the Rodney Watson Memorial Chase.

Trainer Jim Dreaper said: "He deserved one. He has been knocking on the door."

Punters pal Nina Carberry won the bumper on She's A Star.

Belfast Telegraph


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