Graded success for jockey Gilligan but agony for Earls’ family at Aintree

IT was a St Stephen’s Day of mixed fortunes for Galway horse racing connections in Ireland and cross-channel.

Local jockey Danny Gilligan continued his meteoric rise through the ranks with a first ever graded win at Leopardstown, but there was big-race agony for the well-known Earls family from Killimordaly at Aintree.

17-year-old Gilligan from Craughwell who has already enjoyed a string of major successes in the Galway Plate (Ash Tree Meadow), the Troytown Handicap Chase (Coko Beach) and the Listed Lartigue Hurdle (Samui) on his debut season over jumps, again underlined his big-race temperament on Monday.

Partnering the well-backed 7/2 shot Kala Conti in the Grade Two Mercedez-Benz Juvenile Hurdle on the card, Gilligan always had the Gordon Elliott trained filly in a prominent position and had enough in reserve to withstand a series of challengers up the home straight.

Kala Conti, better off at the weights, was gaining revenge on her recent Fairyhouse Winter Festival conqueror Nurburgring which had to settle for third spot, with the Willie Mullins trained French recruit Kargese dividing the pair.

Gilligan was naturally delighted to chalk up a Grade Two victory. “It’s brilliant to get the opportunities in these races and I can’t thank Gordon {Elliott} and the owners enough.

“I got a nice run around and I felt in control everywhere. The only worry I had was at the last, she kind of stretched for it and was lucky to find a leg at the back of the hurdle.

“I was getting 7lb off the horse that beat her the last day {Nurburgring}, which was a big help, and I was quietly confident coming here today.”

His father Paul and older brother Jack would also have left the Dublin track in positive mood on Monday after Kings Hill made a mockery of his 50/1 odds for the trainer/jockey combination in an above-average looking maiden hurdle, the first race of the four-day Leopardstown Christmas Festival.

Pictured: Galway jockey Danny Gilligan and Kala Conti at full stretch clearing the final obstacle on their way to winning the Grade Two Mercedes-Benz Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown on Monday.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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