In truth this was a one horse race, literally from start to finish, as Willie Mullins’ gelding won in an absolute canter.
Carrying the colours of well-known owner, Trevor Hemmings, Hedgehunter is certain to be the recipient of a large rise in the weights on his way to a tilt at the Grand National at Aintree.
“Mr Hemmings bought him with that in mind and the National is the plan,” reported Mullins, successful in the Thyestes once before with Micko’s Dream in 2000.
Be My Belle led over the first fence, but David Casey grabbed the contest by the scruff of the neck at the second, sending Hedgehunter to the front.
The eight-year-old set a spanking gallop and simply flew each fence as it arrived. Indeed, his only semblance of an error came four out.
I’vehadit ranged up as a possible danger heading to the home turn, closing to about three lengths of the winner.
But Casey had saved plenty and Hedgehunter eased away, popped the last three obstacles in style and crossed the line with a lot more in hand than the margin of victory might suggest.
Casey, who won the race previously on This Is Serious for Charlie Swan, said: “It wasn’t my plan to make it, but I didn’t want Be My Belle getting her own way in front and when we jumped upsides her early on I decided why not. He jumped great, has loads of gears and I wouldn’t mind riding him in the National.”
Commented Mullins: “I wanted David to make the running, but he said he wouldn’t. I was delighted when he went on, that’s the way to ride the horse.
“He disappointed us in the Welsh National, when Ruby (Walsh) wanted to hold him up.
“He will now go to Aintree, where he should get in with a nice weight. He could head to Haydock before that, but the chances are we won’t bother.”
Cashmans have introduced Hedgehunter into the National betting at 25-1.
Mullins also saddled Rule Supreme to fill third spot. This was a promising effort, considering he made a dreadful blunder six from home.
Satco Express was hugely disappointing, never travelling at any stage. He was found to be coughing post-race.
Mullins and Casey completed a double when well-backed Boneyarrow turned in a dour performance to beat Camden Tanner in the Irish Stallion Farms’ EBF Novice ’Chase.
Boneyarrow made practically all the running, but looked beaten when headed by Camden Tanner at the second last.
Camden Tanner, however, made a bad mistake six out and it took its toll, as Boneyarrow rallied to get well on top from the final fence.
Said Mullins: “David gave him a great ride. This fellow got a very bad fall at Fairyhouse in the Drinmore ’Chase and I thought he’d broken his neck. He had to stand in his box for three months. He’s earned a tilt at the P J Moriarty (Leopardstown) now.”
Xenophon, heavily-backed in the ring, again disappointed. He jumped soundly for Paul Carberry, who hunted him around for much of the journey.
He improved into third spot at the third last, but then found little for pressure. Tony Martin indicated he would persevere with the horse over fences.
Noel Meade, whose charges have been under the weather for a number of weeks, saddled his first winner of the year when Rosaker toyed with five rivals on the way to taking the Galmoy Stayers’ Hurdle.
Indeed, Meade hadn’t entered the number one berth since Watson Lake scored at Navan on December 20.
Rosaker stripped fit and well and it was always a question of when Paul Carberry asked him to go about his business.
The winner eased to the front approaching the home turn and was value for far more than the two lengths he had to spare over Yogi.
“Happy days are here again,” quipped a relieved Meade. “This horse never had a temperature, but had a dirty nose.
“He will run next in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan and then we will see about Cheltenham.”
Cashmans left Rosaker unchanged for the Stayers’ Hurdle at 33-1.
Three Mirrors, lathered in sweat through the contest, landed a touch for the Tony Mullins yard in the betfair.com Maiden Murdle.
Backed from 12-1 to 7-1, he made every yard of the running to totally outstay his rivals.
Both Quel Doun and Power Elite tried their cases in the straight, but the winner kept up a relentless gallop to score decisively.
Said Mullins: “He improved a lot from his last run at Naas and will now go for a winners’ of one at Thurles.
“I don’t see him as a Cheltenham horse, he has to learn to settle first.”
Kilbeggan Lad, produced with impeccable timing by Timmy Murphy, landed the Aer Rianta Cork Airport Handicap Hurdle.
The winner swept up to lead going to the final flight and stayed on doggedly close home to hold Watts Hill, who returned lame, a short head.
“Timmy gave him a great ride and, hopefully, he will win another one,” said Michael Hourigan.
News on the trainer’s stable star, Beef Or Salmon, is that he is “fine.” Commented Hourigan: “The Hennessy (Leopardstown) is just a possibility, I won’t be rushing the horse.”
Rockspring Hero cantered ahead early in the straight to take the Long Man Of Kilfane Carey’s Cottage Cup Handicap ’Chase with a lot in hand for the John Joe Walsh yard.
Derek O’Connor was seen at his strongest in the Bumper, forcing market leader, Another Native, up in the dying strides to beat Jakers.
Jamie Codd, who partnered Jakers, was suspended for one day, January 31, for using his whip with excessive frequency.
The attendance at Gowran was a modern-day record of just under 9,000. The tote also set a new course record, €229,712, while the bookmakers held €1,198,611.