Back In Front had to work hard to justify odds-on favouritism in the Mongey Communications Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown this afternoon to confirm his credentials for the Smurfit Champion Hurdle next March.
In trouble when third and making a mistake two out, Back In Front responded well for Barry Geraghty to regain the winning thread, much to the relief of trainer Edward O’Grady.
The front-running Solerina looked the likely winner when she accelerated again turning into the home straight, but the winner’s stable companion Sacundai began to stay on and the favourite came back into contention.
Solerina began to falter in the closing stages and Sacundai briefly led before Back In Front powered to the front, eventually winning by a length and a half.
“It was a very satisfactory result,” said O’Grady.
“Barry says Back In Front still needs to sharpen up this season. I thought he was beaten at the second-last, but I love the way he battled and you couldn’t ask for more than that.
“Back In Front has performed well each time he has gone to Cheltenham and you always need that there. Essentially he is a spring horse, and we will probably wait now for the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown for his next run.”
O’Grady also had praise for Sacundai, who had beaten last season’s Cheltenham hero Rooster Booster at Aintree.
“Sacundai keeps surprising me,” he said. “I hoped he wouldn’t embarrass me, and he very nearly did. The obvious race for him now is the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse later this month.”
Solerina is also bound for Fairyhouse, having delighted Michael Bowe on her first start since last February.
“I’m thrilled with her effort, because she hadn’t got the speed of the others on that good ground,” he said. “Stepping her up half a mile for the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle is the obvious next step for her.”
Ladbrokes trimmed both Back In Front (10-1 from 12-1) and Sacundai (14-1 from 16-1) for the Champion Hurdle.
“We were impressed with Sacundai, who ran very well considering he was giving weight away. He was the one to take out of the race as far as we were concerned,” said company spokesman Balthazar Fabricius.
Cashmans of Cork, who claim to have significantly laid Back In Front at 12-1, 10-1 and 8-1, left the horse unchanged at 6-1 behind Rooster Booster (4-1) and Rhinestone Cowboy (5-1).
Paddy Power, likewise, were content to leave things unchanged, going 8-1 about O’Grady’s stable star.
Solerina’s rider David Casey had taken the preceding Western Pleasure Craddockstown Novice Chase in style on 8-1 chance Anxious Moments, who belied his name in a race in which Kicking King proved a big disappointment.
The 5-4 favourite tired badly in the home straight as Caishill looked set to spring a major surprise until Casey pounced.
In front on landing after the last, Anxious Moments soon settled the issue, to the delight of trainer Charlie Swan.
“He jumps well and has a lot of pace. We could go for the Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse, though he might be better at this two-mile trip,” said Swan.
Satco Express showed his liking for a stamina test in the Irish Field Novice Chase when battling back with plenty of determination for Shay Barry to follow up a win on his chasing debut at Cork a week earlier.
Satco Express, backed from 4-1 to 7-2, has the William Neville Novice Chase at Leopardstown at the end of next month as his main early-season target, according to trainer Eamonn Sheehy.
Smurfit Champion Hurdle, Ladbrokes bet: 4-1 Rooster Booster, 7-1 Rhinestone Cowboy, 8-1 Intersky Falcon, 10-1 (from 12) Back In Front, 14-1 (from 16) Sacundai, 16-1 Davenport Milenium, Sporazene, 20-1 Hasty Prince, 25-1 Lingo, Ned Kelly, Quazar, Self Defense, Spectroscope, Spirit Leader, Well Chief, Westender, 33-1 Liberman.