BY MICHAEL O’LEARY
One of the most exciting weekends of the racing year takes place this weekend as the jumps action return to Gowran Park with a two-day meeting taking place today (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday).
Along with the action in Gowran, Sunday is a huge day with a superb mixed card of Flat and National Hunt forming Super Sunday in Tipperary, while one of the biggest races in the world takes centrestage in Longchamp in France with The Prix De L’Arc De Triomphe.
The return of the jumps to Gowran Park marks an exciting time on The National Hunt Calendar, as this is the time of the year where the jumps season swings into gear following on from last weeks Listowel Festival.
Today (Friday), the featured races in Gowran are The Pat Walsh Mares Hurdle and The Mucklemeg Mares Bumper, both worth €30,000.
The Pat Walsh Mares Hurdle was first run in 2015 and named in honour of Pat who was Track Foreman in Gowran Park for over 30 years. Pat passed away unexpectedly in 2014, and his anniversary this week coincides with this weekend’s meeting making it most appropriate to host the staging of The Pat Walsh Mares Hurdle. His untimely passing continues to be sorely felt around the parish almost a decade on.
He was a leading figure both on and off stage with The Gowran Pantomime Society, while he was also centrally involved with founding of The Gowran Little Theatre Group just a few years prior to his passing.
His Son-in-law Raymond Dreeling took over as Track Foreman and along with the rest of The Team in Gowran Park, they have continued on the trojan work as a fitting tribute to Pat’s legacy.
As mentioned, The Pat Walsh Mares Hurdle was first run in 2015 and it was won by The Willie Mullins trained Daisy’s Gift, and the Champion Trainer has dominated the race having won it on five occassions.
The other featured event today, The Mucklemeg Mares Bumper was first run in 2016 and the inaugural running of the race was won by English raider Snow Leopardess with Jamie Codd on board. Trained by Charlie Longsdon, Snow Leopardess would go on to record his biggest triumph in late 2021 when winning The Beecher Chase in Aintree over The National fences with Aidan Coleman in the saddle.
Willie Mullins has trained the winner of The Mares Bumper on three occassions, with his son Patrick successful twice.
It was a week to remember for Patrick Mullins at The Listowel Harvest Festival last week, as he was aboard Luckinthecity to record his 800th win in an illustrious career.
Tomorrow’s feature race is The PWC Champion Steeplechase that was first run back in 1998.
The first running of The Champion Steeplechase was won by Dorans Pride with Richard Dunwoody on board in a high class quality field that featured Danoli, Hill Society, Merry Gale and Moscow Express.
Trained by Michael Hourigan, Dorans Pride was a highly accomplished horse who won several featured races including The Stayers Hurdle(1995), Hennessy Gold Cup and Ericsson Chase (1998), and Kerry National (1997), while he was also placed twice in The Cheltenham Gold Cup (1997 and 1998) when finishing third on both occassions.
That inaugural running of The Champion Steeplechase was part of a new Three-Day Festival that was run on a Wednesday in front of a packed capacity, and it has produced an illustrious roll of honour over the past 25 years.
Barrow Drive was a most popular victory for local trainer Tony Mullins in 2002 with Barry Geraghty onboard who won The Champion Steeplechase on four occassions.
Among those victories was Kicking King in 2004 who would subsequently go onto win The King George and The Cheltenham Gold Cup (2005) later that season.
Other local winners were the Dusty Sheehy trained Grade 1 winner Justified(2007) with Ruby Walsh onboard, while Mooncoin Trainer Eoin Doyle was successful with the Shay Barry ridden The Fonze in 2009.
The Henry De Bromhead Trained Sizing Europe won the race four years in succession from 2011-2014, with his 4th victory coming as a 12-year-old in 2014 following a thrilling finish with then 18-year-old Johnny Burke onboard.
Sizing Europe was a superb horse who won 8 Grade 1s that culminated in winning The Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2011.
Willie Mullins has dominated by winning the race the past three years, with Easy Game having won in 2020 under Paul Townend and last year (2022) with Brian Hayes onboard, while Danny Mullins was in the saddle as Royal Rendezvous was following up his victory in The Galway Plate.
At time of writing, Easy Game may possibly attempt for a third victory in The Champion Steeplechase having been a non-runner in Listowel last week
A win for the Champion Trainer in tomorrow’s featured race would make him the joint most successful trainer along with Jessica Harrington who has won it on 5 times.
Plenty to look forward to in Gowran Park this weekend as The Jumps makes a welcoming return.
Meanwhile, The postponed meeting from Saturday September 16th has been rescheduled for Monday October 16th and will form a Two-Day meeting with the final flat meeting of the year taking place the following day on Tuesday October 17th. The Final Gowran Park meeting of the year takes place on Saturday November 11th, and the racecourse will get a well earned breather before the action recommences in early 2024 with The Thyestes Chase and Red Mills Race Meetings in January and February respectively.