Early Doors came out on top in a typically frenetic renewal of the Tote Galway Plate.
Winner of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, the Joseph O’Brien-trained seven-year-old had failed to get his head in front in four previous outings over fences and finished down the field in the Grimes Hurdle on his latest outing.
Sporting cheekpieces for the first time, Early Doors was prominent in the market for the prestigious handicap under Mark Walsh – and that apparent confidence in the JP McManus-owned runner was justified with a decisive 7-1 success.
The two-mile-six-furlong contest was run at a sound gallop from the off, with the pace-setting pair of Livelovelaugh and Cabaret Queen still bang in contention rounding the home turn, at which stage strong-travelling The West’s Awake looked likely to cause a 66-1 upset.
However, Early Doors was delivered with a well-timed challenge under his light weight to grab the lead in the straight and had enough in reserve to repel the late challenge of 4-1 favourite Royal Rendezvous by three-quarters of a length.
It was a first Galway Plate victory for trainer O’Brien, whose father Aidan landed back-to-back renewals with Life Of A Lord in the mid-1990s.
Walsh said: “I got a good start and was tracking the leaders the whole way. He jumped brilliant for the first circuit, but the second fence away from the stands on the second circuit he missed.
“I was tracking the lads going to the second-last and we were proper motoring, but he missed it and they got away from me a bit. It gave me something to aim at coming up the hill. He galloped all the way to the line.
“He won the Martin Pipe Hurdle in the past and always had the ability, but has taken his time getting jumping and cheekpieces were a big help to him and they really sharpened him up.
“He was well-in today and hopefully he can improve from that.”
He added: “It is a brilliant race and it is unfortunate the owners and crowd can’t be here to see it, but I don’t mind too much!”
The Very Man gave weight and a sound beating to his rivals in the Play The Tote Jackpot Novice Hurdle.
The Gigginstown House Stud-owned six-year-old won successive races at Naas and Downpatrick in the spring, before completing his hat-trick on his return from a break at Roscommon little over a fortnight ago.
Stepping up to Listed class for his latest assignment, Gordon Elliott’s 11-8 favourite had his rivals in trouble before the home turn in the hands of Davy Russell and had almost three lengths in hand over the staying-on Getaway Gorgeous at the line.
Speaking from the Goffs Summer Sale at Doncaster, Elliott said: “He’s in again tomorrow (Thursday), so we’ll see how he is. He didn’t have too hard a race, but we’ll see. He appreciates better ground and has progressed well on it.”
Kaatskill Nap led his rivals a merry dance in the Bet With Tote On The Galway Races Maiden Hurdle.
Placed on three occasions in succession between June and October of 2018, the Willie Mullins-trained gelding returned from a near two-year absence with a spin on the Flat at the Curragh last month.
Ridden from the front by Paul Townend, the 7-4 favourite was in control throughout and found enough for pressure on the run-in to score by five and a half lengths from The Little Yank.
“He jumped the first well and we got into a nice rhythm early enough – I was anxious to keep the rhythm going,” said Townend.
“It was a nice performance, he had the benefit of a run on the Flat and it helped here, especially with the rain that is after coming.”
Mullins and Townend followed up in the following Play The Tote Trifecta Handicap Hurdle, with French recruit Bon Retour (7-2) making a successful Irish debut off the back of a 300-day absence.
Mrs Milner (14-1) lunged late to land the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Handicap Hurdle for trainer Paul Nolan and 5lb claimer Sean O’Keeffe.
Nolan said: “I was worried would she get home up the hill, but all she did was stay.
“She’ll get further and riding her handy seems to suit. She’ll go chasing sooner rather than later.”