Racing: Fairyhouse falls under the spell of super Solerina

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The Independent Online

They run the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse, but it might as well be in the back garden of James Bowe's training yard in Co Tipperary.

It could be a long way to get there, but it is an even more enduring task to wrest the Grade One contest from the Gathabawn premises. Limestone Lad was the former front-running beast to make the contest his own and yesterday there was another in his image and achievement as Bowe's Solerina completed a hat-trick of her own in the Dublin hinterland.

It was a familiar mode even if the crucial personnel were rather exotic. Solerina employed her vast reserves of energy to hold off Golden Cross by a short-head. It was all done with front from the front.

The runner-up was partnered by a man who had an altogether easier assignment when he turned up to partner Motivator in the Derby during high summer.

Johnny Murtagh must have taken some ribbing about strength in a finish when he failed by the minimum distance to quell Solerina's fighting spirit. The disappointment of the race was Brave Inca, the Champion Hurdle third, who could not lift his feet out of the porridge.

"He just doesn't like that sort of ground," Colm Murphy, the trainer, said. "It was just like last year except this time we managed to finish within one and a half lengths of the winner. Today we were meeting Solerina on her best ground and at her best trip and it's no disgrace at all to have been beaten."

On a card which may have a profound influence on the destination of honours at next spring's Cheltenham Festival, Kill Devil Hill showed that courage was not the least of his qualities when he battled home in the Drinmore Novice Chase.

Paul Nolan, who already trains a Festival stand-out in Accordion Etoile, said: "He's a very, very special horse and we are going to treat him like a Gold Cup horse until he proves otherwise. He's 17 hands and only a five-year-old and we won't be stepping him up in trip to three miles until next season because he has his whole future ahead of him."

A third Grade One on the Fairyhouse card, the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle, culminated in a captivating display from Iktitaf, who does not sound like a son of the bog. Paul Carberry's mount streaked clear from odds-on favourite O'Muircheartaigh at the last to score with quite a bit in hand.

Noel Meade, the winning trainer, said: "I'm absolutely thrilled. When he won at Naas last time, he absolutely bolted in. Someone turned to me and said 'how good is this horse?' and I said I'm not sure but I think he could be very good."

In a less rewarding race, there was a less rewarding effort from Hedgehunter, the Grand National winner who embarked on a campaign to retain the Aintree crown by finishing 14th of 23 in a handicap hurdle. It may not have been enough to get the church bells pealing across the land, but Willie Mullins was not distraught at the outcome.

"If the horses had been running better I would be disappointed because I thought he was fit enough today," the Co Carlow man said. "But it hasn't been a good weekend and we are under a bit of a cloud at the moment.

"They seem fine at home, but when they come to the course they are not finding much off the bridle. Hopefully it is just a minor thing and we will pick up in a week or two, so, in the circumstances. it probably wasn't a bad run and provided he seems OK I will probably stick to the original plan and take him for the Lexus Chase [at Leopardstown on 28 December] now."

l Robert Winston returns to action at Lingfield today. The rider shattered his jaw in a fall at Ayr in August.

Fairyhouse (Hatton's Grace Hurdle): 1. Solerina (G T Hutchinson) 6-4; 2. Golden Cross 7-1; 3. Brave Inca 11-8 fav. 5 ran. 4th Back In Front 6-1. (J Bowe). won by short-head, 1 1/ 2. Tote: 2.40; 1.80, 2.20. Exacta: 12.80. CSF: 11.85.

Richard Edmondson

Nap: One More Time (Newcastle 1.20)

NB: Bramble Princess

(Newcastle 2.20)