The race was run at a strong pace, with the odds-on favourite pressed for the lead throughout by Minsk, with Davy Russell tracking the leading pair all the way. Ruby Walsh, on Champagne Fever was sending out distress signals going to the third last, where Minsk edged ahead and, as they headed for the next, Russell produced Rule The World to challenge as the favourite weakened quickly.
In front on landing at the penultimate flight, Rule The World was soon in command and eased clear to slam Minsk by sixteen lengths, with Champagne Fever another twenty-four lengths adrift.
“He’s a big, raw horse, but one that I’ve always liked,” commented Mouse Morris, who trains the five-year-old Sulamani gelding for Gigginstown House Stud. “He did everything right, travelled and jumped super and got a super ride from Davy.”
Morris indicated that he’ll discuss plans with Michael and Eddie O’Leary but a trip to Cheltenham looks very much on the cards. The trainer hinted that Rule The World would have no problem dropping back in trip. But bookmaker reaction focused on the Neptune Investments Novice Hurdle (2m. 5f.), with both Paddy Power and Stan James cutting him to 12/1 while Boylesports offer 14/1.
Earlier, 4/6 chance Marito built on his chasing debut success at Thurles when beating Mount Benbulben narrowly in the Irish Stallion Farms Novice Chase, Ruby Walsh’s mount battling to hold his rival by a head.
“Jumping is his main asset and that was a good round of jumping, bar the fourth last, where he proved he can fiddle a fence,” commented Willie Mullins afterwards. “He’s in the Arkle, but it might come too soon. Staying two and a half miles will be no problem, so we have lots of options. He could go for the Arkle, the Moriarty or something else.”
No joy for the Mullins camp in the opening Annual Membership At Naas Maiden Hurdle as 8/11 favourite Upazo, having looked a winner for most of the journey, failed to cope with the late surge of the Ian McCarthy-ridden mare Jennies Jewel.
Winning trainer Jarlath Fahey said: “She got caught out in very deep ground in Limericlk — she travelled well before cutting out. Ian decided to be more patient today and came with a steady run. She’ll get an entry for a listed mares race (2m. 2f.) in Fairyhouse at the end of the month.”
At a track known locally as ‘the punter’s graveyard’, only two of the day’s odds-on favourites obliged.
The Dermot Weld-trained Grecian Tiger justified 8/15 favouritism in the four-year-old bumper under Robbie McNamara.
Weld said: “He got tired in that tacky ground and we’ll run him again in Leopardstown in three weeks to see what we have!”
Our Girl Salley was another beaten odds-on shot, Prunella Dobbs’ mare failing by a neck to the Noel Kelly-trained Charlie’s Vic (Derek Fox) in the mares beginners chase. Kelly explained: “I always thought chasing would be her game. Derek gave her a great ride — he dropped her and came late, just as I told him to do. That’s a great start to the New Year — a winner and two seconds.
In the handicap action, Martin Burke picked-up a two-day whip ban following his last gasp victory Thepartysover in the Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Hurdle, a welcome winner for Moneygall-based trainer Ger Hayes, who declared: “The horse deserved it and I needed it, badly.”
Philip Rothwell saddled Beneficial Spirit (Brian O’Connell) to justify morning support, at the expense of Quiet Thought, in the Tipper Road Handicap Chase.