Aidan Howard reflected on the biggest success of his training career after Winter Escape ran out an impressive winner of the Paddy Power Celebrating 30 Years Irish EBF Novice Chase at Cork.
Formerly trained in Britain by Alan King, the JP McManus-owned seven-year-old made an encouraging start for Howard when runner-up on his fencing debut at the Galway Festival in July.
He went one better on his return to Ballybrit in September, and was a 7-2 chance stepping up in class for Sunday’s Grade Three contest.
Ridden by Mark Walsh, Winter Escape travelled strongly into the home straight – and his task was made easier when 9-10 favourite Robin De Foret crashed out three fences from home when being produced to challenge.
Howard’s charge soon kicked clear of his remaining rivals, passing the post six lengths ahead Clara Sorrento.
Howard said: “He travelled very well and was even a little bit fresh in Mark’s hands. He got to the front a little bit early, but he did it well.
“I’m delighted to have him. He does everything very easily at home, and I haven’t anything to work with him at the minute.
“The Drinmore (Fairyhouse, December 2) could be a plan, but I’m going to leave it up to the lads.
“Trip-wise, Mark said he wouldn’t have any trouble coming back to two miles because he is a very very quick horse.”
Winter Escape was a second winner on the card for McManus, with Buttons And Blows having earlier scored at 25-1 in the opening Paddy’s Super Enhancements Maiden Hurdle for trainer Pat Flynn and jockey Jody McGarvey.
“She is a lovely filly, and I trained her mother (Galianna) to win five or six races – and she was actually our 500th winner at the time,” said Flynn.
“She won her maiden hurdle, so we won’t get too excited, and will move along from here and see what’s coming up. She likes a cut in the ground.”
Robin De Carlow claimed her fourth win from just five starts with a demolition job in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Irish EBF Novice Hurdle.
The Willie Mullins-trained mare was a heavily-backed 5-4 favourite to secure her second successive victory at Listed level after winning at Limerick three weeks ago.
Stepping up to three miles for the first time, the five-year-old travelled powerfully throughout under Paul Townend – and although she was untidy at the final two flights of hurdles, she still passed the post 11 lengths clear of runner-up Milliner.
Townend said: “She is learning as she goes, and is improving and keeps winning – so we’re all happy.
“It’s a while since she was on her own coming down to a hurdle, and she was having a look (at the final two hurdles). She was novicey but survived and got to the other side – and couldn’t have been any more impressive to me today.”
Townend doubled up aboard James Dullea’s 10-1 shot Dark Outsider in the Paddy Power Onside App Handicap Chase.
Mullins also enjoyed a second winner as Royal Illusion (4-6 favourite) maintained her unbeaten record in the Christmas Party Packages December 9th Mares (Pro/Am) Flat Race under the champion trainer’s son, Patrick.
Mullins junior said: “She is very good. At home she doesn’t show anything at all but on the track she just transforms; she is like the batmobile!
“There’s a great programme for mares looking for black type and we’ll bring her back in the spring for Fairyhouse and Punchestown.
“I’d have a question mark against heavy ground but she has an awful lot of ability and will be going for black-type next time.”
Trainer Andrew Slattery and 5lb claimer Cathal Landers combined to land the WhatOddsPaddy Handicap Hurdle with Cooldine Bog (12-1).