Impressive in last year’s Champion Bumper, the Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old predictably bolted up on his hurdling debut at Wexford in November.
The imposing gelding found things a little tougher before eventually seeing off sole rival Azorian in last month’s Navan Novice Hurdle, but he was a 1-3 favourite to make it three from three in this Grade Two.
Carrying a Grade One penalty, Briar Hill sat second behind Apache Jack, with Very Wood last of the trio.
Odds-on backers would have been sweating as Ruby Walsh asked the market leader to close the gap rounding the home turn, but he eventually drew alongside in the straight and dug deep after the final flight to score by two and a quarter lengths.
Apache Jack held on for second from Very Wood.
Paddy Power left Briar Hill unchanged at 12-1 for both the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, but Mullins suggests the former is unlikely.
He is a 7-1 shot for the longer Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle over three miles.
“He’s improving all the time. It was a nice performance giving weight away against two good horses, and that probably wouldn’t be his preferred ground,” said Ireland’s champion trainer.
“I imagine I might give him another run before Cheltenham – we’ll see, though, as I haven’t anything in mind.
“He’s lazy, and Ruby said the minute he passed the winning post he dropped it (the bridle) – he only does enough all the time.
“He’s bred to get a trip, but he seems to have plenty of speed on better ground.
“He’ll get an entry in the three races at Cheltenham, but I imagine we’ll look at the Neptune or the Albert Bartlett, depending on what other runners we have.”
Mullins’ withdrawal of hot favourite Mozoltov from the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Novice Chase left the door open for his potential rivals.
Noel Meade’s Ned Buntline was a warm order as the even-money favourite, but came off second best to the impressive Mallowney (6-4), ridden by Andrew McNamara.
Winning trainer Tim Doyle said: “I thought that was a good performance. He jumped like a real two-mile chaser.
“I know he likes this place but he will have to go somewhere else now. He is in at Leopardstown or we might look at the Flyingbolt Novice Chase (at Navan) for him.
“We will step him up in grade and see what he can do.
“Andrew was happy with him and said he was up to a bit more class. I was delighted with his jumping.”
Authorization (3-1) bounced back from suspension to take the Annual Membership At Naas Maiden Hurdle for trainer James Motherway and jockey Paul Townend.
Connections were found guilty of “using the racecourse as a training ground” when the five-year-old finished sixth at this track in October.
The horse was banned for 60 days, Motherway was fined €2,000 and jockey Jody McGarvey was suspended for 14 days and forced to forfeit his riding fee.
Motherway said: “This horse’s biggest problem has been his temperament as he has been too keen and he has been killing himself in races.
“The last day, even though we got in trouble, was the first day he actually finished a race.
“It is nice that he has won well and he jumped well today.”
Denis Hogan’s admirable veteran Luke’s Benefit (100-30) completed a hat-trick in the Joe Byrne Memorial Handicap Chase.
A winner of a Fairyhouse handicap hurdle before landing the Punchestown.com Handicap Chase on New Year’s Eve for the third successive year, the 12-year-old got the job done again under Brian Cawley.
Hogan said: “The horse is in good form. That’s his ninth win and there is no sign of retiring him at the moment.
“There is possibly another hurdle (race) in him off his rating. He owes us nothing from a long time ago and anything we get is bonus.”
Trainer Stuart Crawford recorded his fifth winner of 2014 as 7-4 favourite Aibrean collected the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Beginners Chase in the hands of Paul Carberry.
Crawford said: “She will probably go to Thurles (for a Grade Two mares’ novice chase on January 16) if she comes out of this OK.”
Getoutwhenyoucan (2-1 favourite) stormed clear in the Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Hurdle, while the concluding bumper went to Meade’s 9-4 newcomer Champoleon.