Mere hours after Tyson Fury defended his World Heavyweight Title in a brutal bout against Deontay Wilder, the appropriately-named Ontheropes claimed a lucrative championship of his own in Limerick’s seasonal highlight.
In the build-up to Sunday’s Munster Grand National, the spotlight was fixed firmly on two second-season novices’. John Patrick’s mare, Fairyhill Run had enjoyed a fruitful summer campaign, winning once over hurdles and twice in handicap chases. Cavalry Master had also landed a couple of big pots for Henry De Bromhead in the week’s leading up to the Munster National and he sat atop the ante-post betting.
On the day of the race, money came for Robbie Power’s mount Dinny Lacey, who was eventually sent off as favourite. There were also nibbles for Willie Mullins’ Ontheropes, who was being ridden by a rising star of the weighing room, Sean O’Keeffe.
Mullins’ seven-year-old, who had failed to win in five starts during his first season over fences and hadn’t been seen for almost a year, made serene progress during the early stages of the race. As the leaders entered the home-straight, all eyes were drawn to the famous red and white silks of Cheveley Park Stud, as Ontheslopes pinged the last and held off A Wave Of The Sea to win by three lengths.
“I’m delighted with that, and delighted to get the opportunity.” O’Keeffe told the press gathered at Limerick racecourse.
“I want to thank Willie for putting me up, and it’s great to get the job done. It’s my first time riding the horse, and in fairness he was very straightforward.”
“I was always comfortable, I had a lovely position, and I was confident to not let him try to sprint too much. I built it up from the top of the hill and he was good at the last — he winged it for me — and he was always holding on a bit.”
This was the second time in 2021 that O’Keeffe had ridden a high-profile winner for Ireland’s Champion Trainer. At the Cheltenham Festival back in March, the 22-year-old guided Galopin Des Champs to a dominant victory in the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle, ensuring that Mullins would end the meeting as Leading Trainer.
For Ontheropes, a tilt at the Ladbrokes Trophy could be next. Willie Mullins won the Munster National and the Ladbrokes Trophy in the same season with Total Recall, who completed the double in 2017, so he’ll know exactly how to prepare his charge for a trip to Newbury at the start of December.
Given his progressive profile, an outing at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival may also be on the agenda. Ontheropes is 14/1 in the ante-post horse racing tips for the National Hunt Chase. Although he’s now proven himself in open company, Ontheropes remains a novice over fences. Races like the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase and the historic National Hunt Chase will be discussed, as well as the Ultima Handicap Chase, if Ontheropes remains on a workable handicap mark.