Racing: Harrington breaks free with Pierse victory

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Seventy-eight blank, bleak days for Jessica Harrington came to a decisive and lucrative end at Leopardstown yesterday with Studmaster's victory in the Pierse Hurdle. The highest profile of those laid low by the bug infesting the trainer's yard at Moone, Co Kildare, has been, of course, Moscow Flyer, and on behalf of the two-mile star and all the other residents at Commonstown, she breathed a sigh of relief.

"One swallow does not make a summer," she said, "but this is the start." Before Tom Treacy brought Studmaster squelching home ahead of 26 rivals to take the £54,000 first prize for Ireland's richest handicap hurdle the last of his stablemates to score had been Green Belt Flyer, back on 29 October at Naas. But signs of a revival had been there, including a good second place by yesterday's hero late last month. The six-year-old, a 12-1 shot owned by a syndicate of prison officers, took few captives on this occasion, dicing for the lead with Bon Temps Rouler for most of the two miles.

The ground at the Co Dublin track was testing, barely raceable, and the trailblazers' silks were the only colours distinguishable as the field swung into the final straight. It was Treacy's blue-and-red which kept going and stayed pristine as a couple of mud-splattered horse-and-rider shapes emerged from off the pace to chase him home. The runner-up proved to be the 6-1 second favourite No Where To Hyde, followed by two 25-1 chances, Pom Flyer and Charlies First.

Studmaster's victory, 10 years after Dance Beat gave Harrington her first high-profile success in the same race, was entirely appropriate. The kind chestnut has a place in his trainer's affections as a confidence builder after she broke a bone in her neck in a riding accident while on safari in Kenya in September. "He is definitely my comeback horse," she said. "He was the first one I rode out at home after getting the all-clear for my neck. I rode him out every day last week and he is a very civilised horse, suitable for grannies."

Another valuable pot, that for the Tote Gold Trophy at Newbury next month, may be on the agenda both for Studmaster and much less streetwise No Where To Hyde, who stayed on stoutly after being caught flat-footed in the pack. "He got outpaced at a crucial time," Tony McCoy said. "He rather lacked the experience this time but he came home nicely."

An hour earlier a filthy day had been first brightened by the confirmation of the glorious potential of the young chaser Nickname, who put his rivals to a shining, ruthless, sword in the Grade 2 novices' contest.

The seven-year-old, top-class over hurdles in his native France two years ago, had created a huge impression at the track 17 days previously when returning from an 18-month injury-forced break on his first run in Martin Brassil's care. Yesterday the near-black gelding dished up more of the same, though Conor O'Dwyer, in the saddle, admitted that he had only a partial say in the matter as Nickname's power on the ground and brilliance over a fence took him further and further clear. "I was definitely going a couple of strides quicker than I wanted," said the jockey. "In fact, he more or less ran away with me for a mile. But he was jumping so well that I just let him get on with it, like he likes to."

O'Dwyer eventually anchored the even-money favourite's enthusiasm and persuaded him to conserve some energy, and had 11 lengths to spare over Father Matt at the line. "He has pace, he stays, his jumping is faultless," he added. "He acts very well on soft ground; if he was able to cope with it faster, then he'd be a complete machine."

Although Nickname is now vying for second favouritism behind Darkness for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase in most bookmakers' lists, he is by no means sure to turn up at Cheltenham. "The ground is the factor," said Dunmurray-based Brassil. "He's had his problems, and you'd be taking a huge risk on anything much drier than soft. For the sake of going to Cheltenham for one day you could lose the season, or worse. But there have been wet Festivals, so we'll see."