Belfast Banter followed up his County Hurdle success at last month’s Cheltenham Festival by successfully stepping into Grade 1 company to land the Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle for Peter Fahey.
The six-year-old had finished second in a four-year-old maiden at Oldcastle for Mark O’Hare and Patrick Turley, before being sold to current connections and his latest victory provided Fahey and jockey Kevin Sexton their first ever Grade 1’s as he led home a one-two for Irish point-to-pointers with Do Your Job back in second.
Fahey chose to watch the race back in Ireland, as he did for Belfast Banter’s Cheltenham victory and said: “I decided to stay away and not come over as it was lucky for us at Cheltenham. It was a brilliant performance and Kevin (Sexton) gave him a great ride.
“These faster run races really suit him big time. He was wrong at the weights with a few of them but we thought we would take our chance and see how it worked out.
“As much as it was nice to have a Cheltenham winner, getting a Grade One is something else as it is something I’ve always wanted to do. I was half-waiting for him to stop last time at Cheltenham and today I was much more excited as you could see he was always going to get there.
“I said to Kevin before he went out to ride him with a lot of confidence and try and ride him to be placed. There was no pressure on him as if we finished in the first three we thought it would be a good result, but he travelled and jumped very well. If you look back through his form though he never runs a bad race but I suppose the good ground has helped him a good bit.
“He used to be keen but in these better races he switches off and travels better and these fast run races really suit him. We will see what the handicapper does but if he doesn’t go too mad we would like to go for the Galway Hurdle as that was our main aim. That might be gone, but if it is at the end of the day we have a Grade One winner. However, if he gets a realistic mark we would go for the Galway Hurdle. We will be having a few drinks at home to celebrate that’s for sure.”
Winning jockey Kevin Sexton said: “I didn’t think I could be more shocked than after the County Hurdle, but I am more shocked today! I fancied him and thought he’d run well, but it’s a dream actually to win my first Grade One here.
“He settled very well. They went a very quick gallop and he jumped, he travelled like he always does. Turning in I wanted to switch out because I didn’t get a run down the inner, because I don’t like to stop him once he’s coming, and I knew they’d stop at some point but I thought they’d take me further.
“The last month has been unbelievable. I have my first ride in the National (aboard Shattered Love) tomorrow - a year ago I was at home watching myself ride in the Virtual Grand National, having never ridden in the real thing. So much has happened in the last few weeks that I can’t get my head around. It hasn’t sunk in.
“I owe so much to Peter Fahey. He gives me everything he can and as much time as he can. I have learnt so much from working for him, not just about riding horses, just dealing with horses - to be able to repay him with these wins is amazing, and to give him his first Grade 1winner, as well as mine, means so much.
Michael Scudamore, trainer of second home Do Your Job, who had won a five and six-year-old geldings’ maiden at Castletown-Geoghegan for Colin Bowe, said: “We’re really thrilled with him and he’s just improved all year. His form at the start of the season looked solid enough and then we went to Kelso the other day and he ran a really good second there.
“Brendan (Powell) said that day that he just didn’t quite see out the 2m 2f and to be fair it was Brendan’s shout to come here. We were wondering whether to go to the handicap or this and Brendan begged me to run him in this with the handicap being a boys race and he was justified.
“He’s a lovely big horse and we’ll put him away now and if he jumps his fences like he jumps his hurdles he’ll hopefully be very exciting for us.
“You only had to see him in the paddock, he’s twice the size of everything else. He’s enormous and he’s actually incredibly slick over his hurdles for a horse who is as big as he is, so if he can translate that round it’s exciting for a small yard like us.
“To be here and competing is great and hopefully he can be even better next year – another summer won’t do him any harm – and we’re very excited.”