Friday, April 22, 2022

PUNCHESTOWN Festival winners are very special to local trainer Peter Fahey and the Kildare native is hoping to snare the same Festival race for a second year in a row with two runners in the €75,000 Connolly’s RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Hurdle Series Final.

Darragh O’Keeffe on board Surprise Package winning the Red Mills Irish EBF Auction Hurdle for Peter Fahey in Punchestown 2021 Photo: INPHO/James Crombie

The RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Series Final will be the second race on Punchestown Gold Cup Day next Wednesday and has proved to be an extremely popular initiative since its introduction.

Now in its fourth year, the series was designed to create opportunities for horses bought for €45,000/€30,000 or less at store sales in Ireland and the UK, thereby, giving owners and trainers an opportunity to claim some of the €395,000 prize money on offer. To enter the €75,000 final at the Punchestown festival, horses must have run in one of the 16 qualifiers and have not won a listed race or a Grade 1, 2 or 3 race.

This year’s renewal has attracted a total of 17 entries, including the 145-rated Journey With Me, whose two wins for Henry de Bromhead this season include the RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Novice Hurdle at Naas last February and who had run a huge race before falling at the last flight in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Fahey, won the race last year with 14/1 shot Surprise Package who went on to win Sandown’s Imperial Cup this season, and the trainer today confirmed both Ambitious Fellow and Freedom To Dream will take their chance next week.

The latter has already earned a rating of 133 and carries the same colours of owner Paul Leech as Surprise Package did when scoring 12 months ago, while Ambitious Fellow represents the OGB Partnership and the bumper winner ran a nice race on his hurdling debut when fourth at Clonmel in November.

Fahey said on Friday morning: “Freedom To Dream had a great run in Cheltenham. He has a great bit of experience. It’s a competitive race every year but it’s great prize money and a great initiative by Red Mills and the Irish EBF.”
Freedom To Dream was last seen when fourth in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham.

“He’s dropping back in trip but I don’t think it’ll inconvenience him too much because he has plenty of experience in big handicaps.
“He came out of Cheltenham very well. He hasn’t had many runs this year. All year long we were aiming him plenty high because we knew he had the Red Mills final to fall back on if he didn’t win a graded race. He ran good races in them and that gave him good experience. For a horse that doesn’t have many runs, he ran to a good standard the whole time.

“Our other runner, Ambitious Fellow, is working very well. He’s a speedy horse. His jumping completely let him down in the Clonmel when he was fourth in the Red Mills Irish EBF maiden hurdle. The ground looked to be very soft for him too.
“He’s a nice horse. He was very impressive the day he won his bumper and I think he’ll develop into a very nice horse during the summer. I’d be delighted if he could pick up a bit of the prize money.”

Reflecting on last year’s success with Surprise Package, Fahey added: “It’s been a lucky race for us the whole time and this series has with the qualifiers. The horses have always been running well. It was great to win last year with Surprise Package and Freedom To Dream has the same owner, Paul Leech, so he’ll be hoping to go back-to-back. The Big Dog was second in it before.
“For the horses that aren’t the most expensive stores, it gives you a level playing field and there’s massive prize money for them.

“And it’s always nice as a Kildare trainer to have a Punchestown winner, if we can manage it.”
Other notable inclusions are the Gordon Elliott-trained I A Connect who was a course winner back in November when actually beating Surprise Package by a nose and the Willie Mullins-trained Glengouly who is seeking a hat-trick for the champion trainer.
Recent Limerick winner The Road To Fame could line up for trainer Eoin Doyle, while another local trainer, Oliver McKiernan has given an entry to Downpatrick scorer Winding River.
Stuart Crawford, who is represented by Peaceful Sunday, is another ardent supporter of the series, and is looking forward to running the Fairyhouse maiden winner.

“We had two horses that looked like they might fit the bill to give us a good go at the final. Since we’ve bought these horses, it’s probably worked out that we’ve kept an eye on the series.
“This series gives you an option to aim for a really good pot with a horse maybe that’s been bought for a relatively cheaper price in comparison to others.”

“Since Peaceful Sunday won the maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse it has been a target for him. The prize money is a very juicy carrot to be able to dangle in front of a new owner or an existing owner with a new horse.”

Nessa Joyce, Irish EBF Manager, said; “Now in its fourth season, the Connolly’s Red Mills Irish EBF Auction Series has firmly established itself as a valuable target for connections of EBF eligible store horses, bought at auction. This season, two new races were added to bring the total number of qualifying races up to 16 which then culminates in next week’s exciting €75,000 final at the Punchestown Festival. Nearly 80 different trainers have campaigned 117 horses in the series from last May and the entries for the final have whittled it down to 17 horses from 14 different yards which includes seven series winners. The Irish EBF board would like to thank all the connections for supporting the series and the final and special thanks goes to our sponsorship partners Connolly’s Red Mills for their continuing generous support.”

Gareth Connolly, CEO, Connolly’s RED MILLS, added; “This has been a long time coming and we’re delighted for the team at Punchestown that they’ll be welcoming back racegoers to this year’s highly anticipated Festival. This is the fourth year that Punchestown will host the €75,000 RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Series Hurdle Final but only the second time in front of a crowd and it will be great to have the crowds and connections back to savour the occasion.”

It was also revealed this week that Connolly’s RED MILLS will generously sponsor the Stable Staff yard canteen each day of the 2022 Punchestown Festival. The five day season finale at Punchestown is a demanding schedule and Connolly’s Red Mills recognise the importance of ensuring the stable staff are well catered for. Their support will ensure that the hard working yard teams will enjoy complimentary selection of hot dishes, sandwiches, snacks, pastries, tea and coffee throughout their Festival day.

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