Ireland sealed victory in the Racing League on a dramatic final night at Southwell.
Wales & The West went into the last of six fixtures with a two-point lead, but a treble for Ireland on Wednesday night saw the team snatch the crown from the defending champions.
Tosen Wish (6-1) opened Ireland’s account in the 38th race of the William Hill-backed competition, with Danny Sheehy doing the steering on Ado McGuinness’ charge.
Ben Curtis then secured a double aboard the David O’Meara-trained Gulliver and Thunder Moor for George Boughey in the Ireland silks, with Half Nutz and Faster Bee further bolstering their position with seconds on the card.
Ireland went into the final contest with a 48-point advantage, but Wales & The West manager Jamie Osborne opted to play his joker card, which doubled any points won.
Valsad, ridden by Osborne’s daughter Saffie and trained by Harry and Roger Charlton, duly obliged as the 4-1 favourite, but Star Harbour finished fourth for Ireland to give them a hard-fought victory, with seven points splitting the teams after 42 races.
Ireland team manager Kevin Blake was delighted to secure top honours, with his sides having previously failed to figure in the shake up, although he admitted he felt victory was unlikely three meetings in.
He said: “I think we were down 120 points at the halfway mark and two out of the first three weeks didn’t go well, but in fairness to the lads, they really started to get behind us.
“I just can’t believe it, but it is set up to be competitive and I genuinely feel for Jamie because he really thinks about this and is a genuinely one of the really good managers. It’s sweet to beat one of the good fellas.
“You could be Sir Alex Ferguson, but you are going to finish last if you don’t have trainers entering horses and running them, so we just lacked that in the first two years.
“Those first two years were hard, I’m competitive and it’s not easy turning up every week and getting a hiding, so this has turned out particularly sweet.
“I’m a difficult fella to get excited, but I’ve been jibby about this for the last couple of weeks and I’ve put a lot of hours into it.”
Jim Goldie and Paul Mulrennan made sure Scotland finished the competition in style, recording a double with Yaaser (5-1) and Sir Chauvelin (22-1).
Mulrennan said: “This is a really good competition and we’re racing around for really good money and every race is ultra-competitive. You can see the crowd that is here tonight, everyone is enjoying it.”
The Richard Hannon-trained Commander Crouch landed the opening contest for the London & The South team, with Sean Levey steering the 5-1 shot to a neck success.
“It was impressive, but I thought he could have done a little bit better,” said Levey, with the winning team having deployed a joker card to good effect.
“He’s still inexperienced and through greenness he hung all the way up the straight there and I was touch or go whether he was going to give it away, but he kept his head in-front.
“We were happy to come here today because albeit we had good weather last week, the ground has been coming up all ways. At the moment it is coming up more soft when he’s wanting it good and this is the first time he has got a consistent surface.
“We’re good with two-year-olds and hopefully he will keep improving.”