After claiming significant prize money through the qualifiers, Terence O’Brien is aiming to add a “cherry on top” by targeting a tilt at the €75,000 Connolly’s RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Hurdle Series Final, which takes place on Wednesday, April 26th, the second day of the prestigious Punchestown Festival.
The Carrigtwohill trainer has been a regular participant since the series’ inauguration and his Ik’s Man is among 19 potential contenders for the final on Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup day. A €9,000 purchase at Tattersalls Ireland’s June Derby Sale in 2019, the Walk In The Park seven-year-old has been a good money-spinner for connections by being second in a couple of the qualifiers and making that initial outlay of €9,000 back from his three outings in qualifiers to date.
“The series is a great opportunity for horses that were bought at the sales under the €30,000 or €45,000 mark,” declares O’Brien. “It gives us a chance to be competitive in maiden hurdles all year. The final is another cherry on top if you can qualify for it, to give owners an opportunity to land at the festival on a big day.
“We’ve won a few of the races before and were placed a good few times. The prize money is very good and it’s a brilliant series for the small trainer to be honest with you.
“Ik’s Man has had three runs in the series and been placed in a couple. We’ll head to Punchestown. We’ve a good few owners involved in him and I’m sure they’ll all be delighted for a day out. If he just improves another little bit, he’ll hopefully be in the shake-up again.”
Now in its fifth 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 in prize money on offer throughout the series.
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 graded or listed race.
Paul Nolan’s Sandor Clegane is the highest-rated acceptor, having achieved a mark of 141 following a number of consistent runs, following up his Connolly’s RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Maiden Hurdle victory at Punchestown in November with two placed efforts at Grade 1 level, most recently when just a length and a quarter shy of Albert Bartlett victor Stay Away Fay at Cheltenham.
Peter Fahey, who certainly has the Midas touch having won the last two renewals with Surprise Package and Ambitious Fellow, is represented by Rocco Bay, triumphant in the Connolly’s RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Maiden Hurdle at Limerick last May. He was last seen in behind Hands Of Gold in a Naas qualifier and the promising Arthur Moore-trained five-year-old is another possible runner.
Dual winner Senior Chief is an interesting entry for Henry de Bromhead, while the Noel Meade-trained Nucky Johnson is a course victor who would be competitive if lining up. It is a field that speaks to the enduring quality of a series that has consistently produced top-grade alumni.
Three Card Brag certainly fits into that category. The son of Jet Away actually had Sandor Clegane and Nucky Johnson in second and third when scoring in a red-hot Connolly’s RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Maiden Hurdle at Galway last October.
He has been highly tried by Gordon Elliott since then, finishing placed in two graded events before getting back on the mark in Fairyhouse. His most recent run was in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle, where he finished fifth, four and a half lengths behind Sandor Clegane.
Elliott understands the value the series, with recent Irish Grand National runner-up Gevrey among its graduates.
“The Connolly’s RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Hurdle Series is a definite option for Three Card Brag,” said Elliott. “The only thing is maybe on better ground he might prefer to go a bit further than two and a half miles but it’s a great pot and a great initiative and I love to support it wherever I can.
“It would be nice to win the final at some point. I haven’t done so yet but we’ve had some nice horses come through the series like Gevrey, who was third in the final a few years ago and he was second in the Irish National a couple of weeks ago so it’s a great series.”
Nessa Joyce, Irish EBF Manager, said: “The Connolly’s RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Series has gone from strength to strength in a short period of time, thanks to the support of the many trainers and owners who make it a key target each year. This season 70 different trainers campaigned 119 EBF-eligible store-bought horses in 16 qualifying races, with an average auction price of just over €14,000, so there is great anticipation to see who will win the €75,000 final next week. The Irish EBF board would like to thank all the connections for supporting the series 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: “We are proud to sponsor the RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Series for the 5th season and are looking forward to the €75,000 Final at Punchestown next week. This series has provided a platform for horses in the that middle segment of the market to compete for good prize money, with each of the qualifying races worth €20,000, thus supporting the owners and trainer who take part in the series. The series has contributed greatly to the stimulation of the middle market, and the stats show how it has promoted healthy competition, fostering growth within the industry. As a company dedicated to the wellbeing and nutrition of horses, we recognize the importance of investing in events like this and to promote the industry that supports our business all year round. We want to thank the team at the Irish EBF and Punchestown for being such great partners and for all the trainers and owners who have run horses in the series since it was launched in 2019.”