Vautour back on Cheltenham trail

Vautour assumed clear favouritism for the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham after getting his fencing career back on track with a facile success in the Leopardstown Killiney Novice Chase yesterday.

Willie Mullins’ six-year-old put in a good clear round to make amends for his defeat at the same course over Christmas, where a bad mistake all but put paid to his chance.

There were no mishaps this time as Ruby Walsh let the 1-5 shot do his own thing up front. His jumping in the main was very good and he looked to have Real Steel well beaten when that horse came down at the last.

His exit left sole rival Aladdins Cave to take second spot, a very healthy distance in arrears of last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero.

Mullins said: “I think he’s back to himself. He did what he probably should have done at Christmas.

“It was a very good test. Probably in reality it was a match. The other horse (Real Steel) is rated 140 and has mixed it with the best novices.

“I think it was a just little muscle problem at Christmas.

“This fellow can go out in trip easily or go back. There is a lot of time between now and Cheltenham.

“We’ll see what Un De Sceaux does now. If he does what he looks capable of we’ll try and keep them divided. I’ll have to see what the other horses do also and talk to the owners.

“At this stage I wouldn’t think he would run again (before Cheltenham).”

RaceBets cut Vautour to 5-2 market leader from 7-2 for the JLT at the Festival in March.

Walsh completed a double when Mydor (9-4 favourite) won the Leopardstown Club Members Handicap Hurdle in cheeky fashion.

Mullins also claimed a brace as Balko Des Flos (9-10 favourite) made all under his son, Patrick, to make a winning debut in the (Pro/Am) INH Flat Race, in the process staking a claim for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.

“He’s certainly qualified to go to Cheltenham and we’ll think about it and see. A strong stayer is what you need,” said the trainer.

Northern-based jockey Brian Hughes teamed up with his old boss Kevin Prendergast to take the BoyleSports Handicap Hurdle through the impressive Katie T.

Hughes was repaying the faith of the veteran Classic-winning trainer, to whom he was apprenticed as a youngster before switching to the jumps and moving to the UK.

Hughes had the six-year-old just behind the leaders as Forty Foot Tom and Lucky Bridle set the pace before producing Katie T (12-1) with a telling run to lead between the last two flights after Modem had made his bid for glory.

Modem tried to make a renewed effort on the rail but Hughes closed the door with Katie T pulling away close home to win by three lengths and Ted Veale staying on well for third.

“Mr Prendergast was very good to me. It’s the only job I had in Ireland and I was with him for three and a half years. He gave me my first three winners and got me riding over hurdles,” said Hughes, who was given a two-day ban following an inquiry.

“He always knew I was going to end up as a jump jockey and it’s great to ride him a big winner.

“I couldn’t believe how well I was going, and I probably got there a bit soon. Once I gave her a smack she put her head down and galloped all the way to the line.

“I drifted in and didn’t do enough to stop her, so the stewards took the opinion that I deserved a couple of days.”

Prendergast said: “She travelled very well and did everything right. Hopefully she’ll be a bit better on better ground, but as for today she was good.

“We’ll try and find something at Punchestown and Galway, some of the big meetings. Handicaps might be harder won after today.”

Foxrock (6-1) ran out a game winner of the BoyleSports Handicap Chase to gain compensation for his narrow defeat at Christmas.

Adrian Heskin brought Ted Walsh’s seven-year-old to lead before the final fence and he galloped on resolutely to go one better than in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase.

Byerley Babe just held Heaney for second place, five lengths behind the winner.

“If he ran as well as in the Paddy Power I thought he was able and he was probably a better horse than in the Paddy Power,” said Walsh.

“He’ll get another 8lb or 9lb. He’s finished in handicaps and if he’s fresh and well he might run in the Hennessy or maybe the Bobbyjo, those type of races.”

Davy Russell kick-started the meeting with a brace in the first two races courtesy of Golan Road and Fletcher.

A fine leap at the final flight enabled Michael Griffin’s Golan Road (5-1) to score by two lengths clear in the 2015 Leopardstown Membership Mares Maiden Hurdle.

Russell always had Fletcher (5-4 favourite) up with the pace on the way to a resounding eight-length success in the Leopardstown – Racecourse Of the Year 2014 Maiden Hurdle.

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