Watson Lake jumped to the forefront of the Cheltenham picture after an authoritative display of front-running under Paul Carberry in the Flyingbolt Novice Chase at Navan today.
Noel Meade’s seven-year-old had not raced since winning the Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse in late November, but he overturned odds-on favourite Ulaan Baatar and replaced Jessica Harrington’s horse near the top of the betting for the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy.
The Grade Two event looked like turning into the expected match when the pair drew well clear of the others in the back straight, but turning for home it became apparent that Ulaan Baatar was tiring.
He was out on his feet over the last two fences.
Watson Lake, who was sent off at 3-1, won as he pleased in the end, coming home 20 lengths clear of his rival.
“We can dream again,” said Meade, whose stable has been under a cloud of late.
“After his last run in the Drinmore he seemed to be OK, but when we started to trot him again we discovered he had pulled a little ligament. It has taken a while to build him back up, and ‘Slippers’ Madden has spent a lot of time with him.
“He has only done two bits of real work before today. The first was very good, but after the second, which was at Leopardstown racecourse, he finished very tired, which made me worried about today.
“He jumped so well, which made the difference. If he can relax as well at Cheltenham, that would be a big help.”
Ulaan Baatar’s trainer Jessica Harrington was not present, but jockey Barry Geraghty said: “He just went out like a light. The ground was very heavy and he stopped in it.”
Watson Lake’s Arkle price was slashed to as short as 6-1 after the race, while Ulaan Baatar’s odds drifted to as big as 14-1. Another Irish horse, War Of Attrition, remains favourite.
Totesport spokesman Damien Walker said: “Noel Meade’s horses are back in form and Watson Lake would be a danger to all on easy ground in the Arkle.
“Ulaan Bataar was very disappointing and had an extremely hard race. He has a mountain to climb if he is to bounce back in the Arkle.”
Carberry and Meade subsequently completed a double when Afistfullofdollars took the Custome Care Maiden Hurdle.
Earlier on the card, Emotional Moment was a facile winner of the McCabe Builders Ltd Boyne Hurdle after his task was made simple by the early departure of Solerina.
Regular front-runner Solerina was held up on only her second attempt at three miles, and she took the first fall of her career when crashing into the final flight on the first circuit.
Emotional Moment, the 8-11 favourite, led for the entire trip in the Grade Three event and never had a moment’s worry, coasting home under Geraghty nine lengths clear of Yogi.
Solerina appeared to be none the worse after her fall, although jockey Gary Hutchinson was stood down for 48 hours with minor concussion.
Emotional Moment’s trainer Tom Taaffe said: “Firstly, I was delighted to see that Solerina was OK. My horse was not exactly wound up for today, but he should have a sporting chance to be in the first three in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham.
“He has never run badly there and will love a bit of good ground.”
Geraghty told At The Races: “I had a peep over my shoulder and Barry Cash and Ruby (Walsh) were there, but there was no sign of Solerina. I didn’t know if she was pulled up or what had happened.
“He had a great run back in November at Cheltenham off top weight in a handicap hurdle when he was third but needed a run.
“He has now got his hat-trick up in decent three-mile races. He stays well and is going the right way.”
The gelding’s Ladbrokes World Hurdle odds were cut to around 10-1.
Point Barrow was made to dig deep to justify his position as 5-4 favourite in the Ladbroke Ten Up Novice Chase.
Joey Elliott was the picture of confidence on Pat Hughes’s Royal & SunAlliance Chase entry with two fences to go in the three-mile contest.
However, Mullacash chased him all the way up the run-in before Point Barrow proved two strong for his rival, prevailing by three-quarters of a length, with recent Thyestes Chase winner Numbersixvalverde staying on in third.
Hughes said: “He’ll be entered for the four-mile race at Cheltenham (National Hunt Chase). I thought he was a good-ground horse last year, but Francis Flood told me the dam would only win when the ground was unraceable, and I’m starting to think this fellow might need plenty of cut as well.
“He’s very tough and stays all day.”
Davy Russell was taken to hospital after unseating from Coast To Coast six from home.