The six-year-old dictated the pace under Ruby Walsh and forged clear of Jetstream Jack after the second last flight to triumph by thirteen lengths, with the winner’s stable-companion Nambour another thirteen adrift in third position.
Willie Mullins declared: “That was an impressive performance. He jumped adequately and keeps galloping. You’d have to be very happy with him. I think he has Albert Bartlett written all over him.”
And he explained: “It would be nice to get another run into him, but we had a few blips with him last season, when he went over the top very quickly. So we might not run him again before Cheltenham, where he’ll have entries in the Neptune and Albert Bartlett, but the longer race is the race for him.”
Mullins and Ruby Walsh had initiated a double when Pleasant Company made a successful start over fences in he opening, three-mile beginners event, outstaying market rival Moby’s Meadow on the run-in to score by two and a quarter lengths.
Walsh commented: “He jumped really well in the very deep ground. He needed a good jump at the second last and again at the last and delivered at both and he battled well to the line.”
Mullins later added: “He’s tough and did it well. I’d say he’ll get an entry for both the RSA and four-miler at Cheltenham.”
A casualty in a handicap chase in Limerick on Sunday, the Tony Martin-trained Noble Emperor landed hefty support in the Free Festival Upgrade Ticket Offer Hurdle ,justifying 11/8 favouritism at the expense of veteran Seabass.
Martin said of the Barry Geraghty-ridden seven-year-old: “It’s great to get that out of the way. He’s run some nice races, but let us down a few times too, with a few iffy jumps.
“We’ll see where we go – he could back over fences next time.”
Jessica Harrington will bring Oscar Sam back to Punchestown for the Pertemps Qualifier on January 31 following his workmanlike win over Pass The Hat and Afteraspen in the Buy Your Tickets Online Handicap Hurdle.
Ridden by Robbie Power and in front before the third last, the 11/8 favourite completed his hat-trick in style, prompting his trainer to explain: “He did it well again and the plan is to end up in the Pertemps Final in Cheltenham, if I can get him high enough (in the handicap) – he’ll come back here for the qualifier at the end of January.”
Up 6lb. for a win in Naas last time, Rolling Rocket scored again for Toomevara-based Stephen Ryan and jockey Paddy Kennedy in the Goffs Punchestown Invitational Sale Handicap Chase, battling back after an untidy jump at the final fence to beat Mount Brandon by three-quarters of a length.
“I was a bit nervous about the heavy ground, but he seemed to handle it well enough,” said Ryan. “We’ll see how he is over the next couple of days and, if he’s okay, he might go to Naas on Sunday.”
County Galway trainer Val O’Brien has enjoyed his best year in a long time and was on the mark again when recent Clonmel scorer Ice Cool, 5lb. ‘well-in’, followed-up in the Martinstown Opportuniity Handicap Hurdle.
Donagh Meyler’s mount coped with the drop back to two miles in a grief-filled race, staying on to hold the late challenge of Mista Wabbit Man by a half-length and prompting his trainer to explain: “I had to run him because he went up 11lb. for Clonmel.
"Donagh said he felt more comfortable over the two and a half miles the last day. He deserves a short break now after two wins in that ground in nine days.”
Meyler picked-up a one-day whip ban.
After three successful favourites in the opening races, the layers received some respite when 16/1 shot Jazz Ranger, trained for Martin Cullinane by Pat Fahy and ridden by Jonathan Moore, overcame Best Kept Secret (25/1) in the festival Hospitality On Sale 3-Y-0 Maiden Hurdle.
“He jumped left in Leopardstown the last day and I took a chance running him going right-handed,” explained Fahy.
“Liz Connolly has been treating him, trying to iron out a few problems. We decided to claim off him, ride him handy and see what would happen. He’s been doing some serious work, but he never settled and could be anything if he learns to relax in his races. We’ll see what Martin wants to do with him.”
On a day when six favourites obliged, 2015 ended with a shock as 33/1 shot Gold Doubloons, trained in County Cork by Sean O’Brien and ridden by in-form Eoin O’Brien (the trainer’s second cousin) scored readily.
“She’s a mare with a lovely pedigree. Things didn’t work out for her in two point-to-points and she didn’t go a yard the last day (in Limerick back in November).
Maybe the first-time cheekpieces made the difference,” explained the winning trainer.