Brave Inca made a winning reappearance in an eventful renewal of the Grade Two Maplewood Developments Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.
Colm Murphy’s stable star had been off the track since lifting the Emo Oil Champion Hurdle over course and distance in April but he showed no signs of needing the run as he powered home by half a length from Essex.
Tony McCoy, who only just made the track in time after his plane was delayed by fog, set a sedate early pace aboard the seven-year-old before increasing the tempo turning for home.
As his rivals began to stretch, Paul Carberry was looking confident aboard 7-4 favourite Harchibald and he started to make a move up the inside rail.
However, as he attempted to creep up Brave Inca’s inside before the last flight, the gap quickly closed and he ended up being badly squeezed against the rails.
That firmly handed the initiative to Brave Inca but McCoy had to drive out the 11-4 shot to hold the determined challenge of the fast-finishing Essex.
Carberry was not overly hard on Harchibald after his run was checked and he eased home in third.
“It was a big ask on his first run back,” said Murphy.
“I was afraid he’d get tired on the soft ground and I am thrilled to bits he won.
“It’s some relief to get a win under our belt so soon this season. He’ll improve a lot for that run and will improve again for his next run.
“He’s a different, more mature horse his year. He’ll probably go the same route as last year.
“The Hatton’s Grace is in two weeks time at Fairyhouse, but that could come too soon – we’ll have to wait and see.”
Regarding the incident with Harchibald, McCoy told At The Races: “My horse had tracked a bit off the rails but there was never really going to be any room for a horse to come up my inside.
“It’s one of those things – a very slowly run race and Paul was never going to have much room in behind Ruby (Walsh) and Barry (Geraghty) as well and he was taking a chance in the hope he might get a gap.
“I just held my line and it was a good performance by the horse and it was just unfortunate for Paul.
“They were all going well at that stage but Brave Inca would have been very hard to get past and I would not have swapped him on the day.”
Cashmans make Brave Inca the 5-1 joint favourite along with Hardy Eustace for the Smurfit Champion Hurdle.
Justified had earlier advertised his Festival claims as he comprehensively outpointed market rival Wild Passion to land the Volkswagon Jetta Craddockstown Novice Chase.
Backed into even-money favourite, the Eamonn Sheehy-trained six-year-old bowled along in front under Shay Barry for the entire two miles of the Grade Two contest.
The two key protagonists moved well clear of their rivals but once asked for an effort, Justified proved too strong for Wild Passion turning for home and was eased-down for a 14-length victory.
“He is definitely a better chaser than a hurdler,” said Sheehy. “This year he is man, compared to a chap last year – he has matured.
“If all goes to plan, the Arkle at Cheltenham is his long term objective, but I will change travel arrangements this year and he will only go over a day before the race.
“I will have a look at the Drinmore at Fairyhouse – he may go for that as he needs plenty of racing.
“I think he will also definitely go for the two-mile Durkan New Homes Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas.”
Cashmans make Justified their 7-1 joint-favourite along with Accordion Etoile for the Arkle Trophy in March.
The same firm make Line Ball the 12-1 joint market leader along with Leading Contender for the Champion Bumper after he opened his account in good style in the closing Dick Grainger Memorial (Pro/Am) INH Flat Race.