Last Friday night's Bar One Racing Irish Sprint Cup final was one of the most exciting in the 14-year history of the event, producing a winner that lacked nothing in popularity.
For almost the entire 400 journey Heisman and Forest Natalee went head to head, fighting out a duel that had the big Dowdallshill crowd in thrall. The only two of the sextet to show with a chance crossed the line together, and after connections had waited for what must have seemed to them like an eternity, the judge, with the help of as photo, declared Heisman the winner by a head.
The cheer that greeted the result was loud enough to carry all the way to Carrickmacross - if, indeed, there was anyone there to hear it. Heisman, owned in partnership by Laurence and Brian Jones and trained by the former, is based in the South Monaghan town, and aside from the extended Jones family, the enclosures were thickly populated with many supporting Heisman and his kennelmate, Jennys Boy.
Winner of his first three races in the five-round competition, breaking the distance's decade-old record in the third of them, Heisman was long-odds favourite going into the semi-finals, but lost some of his popularity when managing no better than third behind impressive winner, Forest Natalie, and Jennys Boy.
Aulton Jet, in contrast, shot to the head of the market, putting early round form in the shade with a decisive win over Central Cloud and Fleetwood Lee. The Co Clare-owned dog was made the 6/4 favourite to earn connections the €20,000 first prize on Friday night, with 3/1 being available about both Heisman and Forest Natalee. It was 7/1 and better the others.
Aulton Jet, normally a flier from traps, was left flat-footed this time, but Heisman was electric, quickly putting three lengths between himself and Forest Natalee.
Trained in Navan by Martin Lanney, who was attempting to win the title for the second time, Forest Natalee closed rapidly going to the turn, and was then right on the leader's tail turning in. Meanwhile, the others got involved in bunching, resulting in Central Cloud getting knocked over.
Divided by less than a length, the two principals settled down for a home straight tussle to the background of roars from the stand, the likes of which hasn't been heard at the track in years. Heisman had his lead reduced by each of Forest Natalee's strides, but there just wasn't enough distance to allow the only bitch in the line-up to get there. Heisman, as game as they come, stayed on gallantly to get the verdict by a head, registering a time that was only two spots outside of his track record and the fastest ever in a Sprint Cup final.
Completing a great night for the Jones following Acantha Magic's win in the consolation final, Jennys Boy finished third, just over eight lengths behind his kennelmate and a head in front of Fleetwood Lee. Aulton Jet never recovered from his poor start, and Central Cloud was a distant last after hitting the deck.
The popularity of Heisman's win was reflected in the reception accorded to the Jones brothers when they took their champion on parade after the presentation and in the number of people who came to congratulate them. They preside over one of the area's longest-established kennels, a home to many great champions in the past, most notable among them Jemmy John.
Having sent out four previous Sprint Cup finalists, the lads weren't tasting Classic success out of turn. They've had winners on the coursing field as well as the track, Baroque, in 2003, and Figaro, three years ago, earning them a place on the Dundalk & Dowdallshill CC Corn Cuchulainn roll of honour.
The likelihood is that Heisman will move up in distance, and could well be a challenger for the St Leger in Limerick. As for Forest Natalee, the probably is she will also go for a longer distance, taking her place in the Irish Oaks at Shelbourne.
While he's been in the Sprint Cup winners' enclosure before with Johnny Gatillo, trainer Martin Lanney would have reason to believes the gods are not entirely on his side. Forest Natalee was his fifth finalist, the second of them to be touched off in a photo. Three years ago his Cloughtaney Boy went down – to Razldazl Rioga - by an even smaller margin than Forest Natalee.
There was local success on the undercard. Out The Rock proved himself a very popular winner of the Bar One Racing 525 for Colm Lawrence, from Blackrock, and Young Willie Mc, owned by the Sprint Cup sponsor, Barney O'Hare, and trained in Dromiskin by Ambrose Quinn, won the final of the AV Direct 550