Racing: Essex has magic touch for Barry.
ESSEX consolidated Ireland's ante-post grip on the Smurfit Champion Hurdle when landing a gamble in the totesport Trophy at Newbury yesterday.
Followed on his journey from trainer Michael O'Brien's stables near the Curragh by a partisan crowd of supporters, Essex was given a welcome reminiscent of a winner at the Cheltenham Festival after his superb triumph.
The five-year-old, already winner of the valuable Pierse Hurdle, beat Bongo Fury and Al Eile by three lengths and a head under Barry Geraghty.
The 4-1 favourite had been backed at 7-1 to complete the big handicap double after his Leopardstown victory last month, and now his attention will be focused on the Champion, for which both Coral and William Hill cut him into 12-1 from 25s. Ladbrokes go 14-1 from 33s.
Essex has run only four times over hurdles and it was due to his lack of experience that O'Brien decided to give him a full-scale schooling gallop earlier in the week.
Geraghty said: 'He jumped 10 hurdles on the Curragh on Tuesday morning and rattled one of them. Apart from that he was spot-on throughout.
'We thought that extra experience would help and he actually has had more practice than it seems.'
The BPS Syndicate, who own the son of Sadler's Wells, are keen to proceed to Cheltenham, and spokesman Gerard Pettit said: 'Michael has done a good job on him and the nine people in the syndicate have all had a right good touch.'
O'Brien himself was delighted with the performance but admitted the rise in the weights had been a concern.
Speaking from his County Kildare base, he said: 'That was a terrific performance.
'I was in a bit of shock (when the weights went up) for a couple of minutes but when I sat down and thoughtabout it, I thoughthehad really improved after the Pierse Hurdle.'
O'Brien confirmed that Essex would now head to the Cheltenham Festival, where he will tackle the Champion Hurdle.
'I don't think there's any other option. The only problem is that he's a five-year-old, but that was a serious performance with 11-6, so he will certainly take his chance,' he added.
As the field shaped up to the second-last flight, Bongo Fury (33-1) was in charge and making the best of her way home, but Geraghty had her every move covered and jumped Essex to the front at the last before pulling clear.
Hawadeth (40-1) stayed on well to take fourth behind Al Eile (101), while Ireland was responsible for the fifth home in the shape of Power Elite.
Tamarinbleu attracted a welter of on-course support but after looking sure to get into it halfway up the straight he found little extra on the run-in.
JUMP TO IT: Essex and Barry Geraghty, left, clear the last
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|Publication:||Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)|
|Date:||Feb 13, 2005|
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