Winged Leader recorded the ninth success of his career with an all the way victory in the Waterford Hunt Hunters Chase in deteriorating conditions at Tramore on Monday evening.
Having been turned over when sent off as a warm odds-on favourite on the Hunter Chase card at Cork on Easter Monday, David Christie’s charge certainly did not have things his own way when the tapes went up in the 2m 6f contest, with the field charging over the opening two fences.
The likes of The Forge Hill and Duty Calls had all wanted to force the pace, however by the time the latter departed at the fifth, Winged Leader had one the early battle to set the tempo, however the gallop did slow somewhat, it proved to a strong end to end tempo which had the field very well strung out with few of the 12 runners ever getting involved.
Heading into the final mile, it was the top four horses in the betting who began to stride on before one-by-one they began to feel the pinch with Clonmel winner Templebredin the first to give way from the fourth-last.
Sean Doyle’s The Forge Hill took a false step towards the end of the back straight which then saw her loose touch with the pacesetter and so swinging in to the home straight it was only the recent Cork winner Wrong Direction left to challenge the even-money favourite.
However, the final two fences proved to trouble free for Barry O’Neill’s mount and he always seemed to be in command as he crossed the line with six lengths to spare over the second favourite Wrong Direction, with Templebredin a further 17 lengths back in third under Evan Dwan as only six of the 12 starters completed such was the test that was set for them.
The fifth-placed finisher, Save Us Avis, was subsequently disqualified due to her rider Paul Bannon failing to weigh in. He later received a two-day suspension.
The victory of the seven-year-old completed a memorable 30 minutes for Portrush hotelier Jennifer O’Kane and her partner John Hegarty with Blue Markie having carried her colours to win the West Waterford Handicap Chase 30 minutes earlier for the Christie team.
A trip to Stratford could be next on his agenda, whilst the winning handler is also considering the Punchestown Champion Hunter Chase next week.