Larne, on the east coast of County Antrim, is a 250 miles round trip to Carlisle, but it is proving a very happy hunting ground for Northern Ireland’s Stuart Crawford.
Crawford chalked up another Cumbrian success when gutsy Lily’s Gem fought off favourite Penny Mallow to land the Mares’ National Hunt Novices Hurdle at Carlisle’s first fixture of the New Year.
“Lily’s Gem is all heart, and she loves coming to Carlisle,” said Crawford’s assistant trainer Ben Arthey.
“She lights up when she sees the track and won her first career race at Carlisle.
“Lily’s Gem was running into the teeth of a gale, so she really had to dig deep to get home.”
Ben added: “Although we are from across the water Carlisle feels like our local track.
“We’ve had some good success here and we like to run our horses at Carlisle.”
Crawford’s Hidden Dilemma also put up a bold show in Monday’s £12,500 feature race, The Brisco Mares’ Handicap Chase, finishing second to Evan Williams’ Skewiff.
The Glamorgan trainer made it a double courtesy of Ballybreen to extend his record from four winners from eight runners at the track this season.
Meanwhile, Donald McCain’s promising hurdler Goobinator bagged the opening prize of 2020, and provided arguably the most impressive performance in the racingtv.com Novices’ Hurdle.
The red-hot favourite was never in trouble over the two miles and one-furlong test and also provided the first of three wins for title-chasing jockey Brian Hughes.
Cheshire trainer McCain said: “Goobinator is a nice horse, we think a lot of him.
“He’s very raw, just a baby really.
“He’s progressive, though, a longer-term prospect, and I think he could be quite useful.”
McCain, a great supporter of Carlisle, added: “I always enjoy coming to Carlisle - it is a proper racecourse.”
Border trainer James Ewart is in red hot form right now and Aristo Du Plessis saw him clock up a fifth victory in fourteen starts.
The Langholm handler said: “We had a frustrating time at the end of the year, but the tide has turned, and the horses are running really well.”
Carlisle returns to action on Monday 17 February.