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King Robin rocks to super win at Down Royal Festival

By Ron McKnight

Little King Robin became queen of the Maze when landing the first day feature of the Down Royal Festival, demolishing the opposition in no uncertain terms.

The performance of the Colin Bowe-trained mare lit up the meeting and the WKD Hurdle, with Little King Robin immediately blitzing into a 10 length lead before extending that advantage down the back straight.

Tiger Roll's supporters knew their fate four from home when the Cheltenham Festival winner was pulled up. Trainer Gordon Elliott reported the horse lame behind post race.

Favourite Artic Fire and Orgilgo Bay challenged on the downhill run but the former proved the danger and while Ruby Walsh's mount headed the mare at the last flight, Little King Robin battled back bravely to win going away again to record her biggest success to date having won her last five races and a total of seven this season.

Winning trainer Bowe said: "She has just kept improving so we couldn't let her off.

"She'll not run on Sunday (at Naas), that entry was in case the ground went against her.

"It was a big decision to come here, but she had been winning her mares' races.

"We thought we would have a crack at it. She got passed and battled back. She's tough.

"The long-term plan is the mares' hurdle (at the Cheltenham Festival).

"She'll probably have one more run before then and it could be at Christmas at Leopardstown for the mares' race."

Winning jockey Mark Walsh added: "That's my seventh win on her this season. She has done nothing but improve from the start of the season and fair play to Colin and the lads for keeping her fresh.

"They have done a right job and she loves her racing.

"I was wanting to run her on Sunday at Naas, I thought it would be too much for her here. I thought the Naas race looked an easier option but the boys were brave to let her take her chance and thankfully they did.

"She is unreal for the size of her and she is so tough.

"Ruby came to me at the second last and headed me and all she wanted to do was get by him again.

"She winged the last and went on about her business then."

Ruby Walsh had a much easier time when winning the Grade Three EBF Lough Construction Mares Hurdle, making all the running on Morning Run to maintain her unbeaten record of five from five.

The only fright for punters was as the mare stumbled at the last having stood off earlier flights but the champion rider sat tight to canter home unchallenged.

Winning trainer Willie Mullins said: "She's improving all the time. She's a very slick jumper and is very sharp. She was a bit novicey at the last.

"We'll keep upping her in grade. She's entitled to make the jump to Grade Two. We'll keep her to mares' races."

Ruby Walsh added: "She did well to stand up at the last. She's a very good mare - I wouldn't mine owning her."

Belfast-based owner Patricia Hunt has a very good horse to enjoy this season after Apache Stronghold made an impressive winning chasing debut in the Porter & Co Beginners Chase.

Apache Stronghold made all and gave a display of jumping to warrant the prohibitive starting price of 30/100.

Winning rider Paul Carberry said: "That was all I expected - he'll be better again in a stronger race.

Trainer Noel Meade added: "I couldn't be happier - he jumped like a buck. He will improve for that, but he was fit enough.

"Paul thinks he'll be better with a good gallop. The Drinmore has to be the race."

Sizing Solution produced a sparkling display, making all to claim the Robinson Services Handicap Chase.

Racing got under way with a local success, Banbridge trainer Neil McKnight claiming his biggest winner to date - and first Festival triumph - with Better Back Bob.

Better Back Bob kept on best to prevail despite jockey Graham Watters losing his whip prior to the final flight.

McKnight said: "That was well deserved. Graham gave him a great ride. He jumps fences for fun. I might give him a wee break now to the spring. He'll go over fences next."

The winning local rider, now based with Lucinda Russell in Scotland, added: "I won two point-to-points on him. He's not the easiest horse to train as he sweats up. Things are going well across the water."

Valerian Bridge made it three wins from three in the concluding bumper, supplying Willie Mullins with a double.

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