Nickname produced another stylish display in the Byrne Group plc Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown and has the bookmakers on the run ahead of the Cheltenham Festival.
Martin Brassil’s eight-year-old won his fourth race of the season under Ruby Walsh as his reputation as one of the leading two-mile chasers continues to grow.
However, whether or not he will turn up to contest the Seasons Holidays-sponsored Queen Mother Champion Chase next month remains dependant on the ground.
The race was billed as a virtual match between Nickname and the reigning champion chaser Newmill, having his first start over fences since last April.
But John Murphy’s charge tipped up four fences from home, leaving punters none the wiser as to Nickname’s merits against a true Grade One performer at the trip.
As a result, Nickname, the 9-10 favourite, sauntered to a seven-length success from long-time leader Central House.
Despite the ease of his win, which came on slightly quicker ground than that on which he has done most of his winning, connections would still not confirm his participation in the two-mile championship.
The layers were mightily impressed, though, none more so than Cork-based Cashmans, who make him a 5-1 chance (from 8s), while William Hill go 6-1 from 10s.
Hills spokesman Ben Clarke said: “His participation at Cheltenham will very much depend on the ground, but if it was to come up soft on the Wednesday I can’t see many horses in the Queen Mother being capable of beating him.”
Coral’s Simon Clare added: “Nickname proved he is just as effective on a quicker surface and he must now enter serious calculations for next month’s Champion Chase.”
Brassil said: “Ruby said he settled lovely. They went a good gallop – he got checked on the final turn, but then he got a grand run up the inner.
“I was very happy with that and he will go for the Newlands Chase at Naas in three weeks (February 25).
“He is having it so easy the races are not taking that much out of him, that is why he is able to run so often.”
John Murphy said of Newmill: “He has a cut over his eye that will need stitches, but other than that he is fine.”
Walsh admitted he would hold leading claims if he was to turn up at Cheltenham on March 14.
“The two in front got a bit tight in front of me, but I got a nice run into the straight but he quickened up well. It was a good performance,” he told At The Races.
“He is going to Naas in a couple of weeks according to Martin and there is a good prize to be won, so I don’t see why he shouldn’t.
“If he does run at Cheltenham he has to be a huge player, depending on the ground.”
Brassil also saw his Grand National winner Numbersixvalverde run satisfactorily when ninth in the opening Jim Ryan Racecourse Services Handicap Hurdle.
“They went no gallop and when they did quicken he hit a flat spot. He’ll go for the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse (February 24) next,” he said.
While connections of Nickname had their Cheltenham hopes boosted, those associated with De Valira will have left a little deflated.
Favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival before the Byrne Group plc Novice Hurdle, he is now as big as 10-1 with Cashmans following his reversal at the hands of Noel Meade’s Orbit O’Gold.
The latter ran in the ultra-competitive Pierse Hurdle on his last start, an experience he did not enjoy, but back in novice company he made all under an enterprising ride by Niall ’Slippers’ Madden, returning at a huge 50-1.
De Valira travelled well for most of the race and was conceding 6lb to the winner, but Perce Rock, second in the Tolworth Hurdle, was a big disappointment.
Meade joked: “As far as the handicapper is concerned that wasn’t a great idea!
He added: “He ran in the Pierse Hurdle and I made Paul (Carberry) ride him as I thought he had the best chance of my two, but he ran disappointingly.
“He wears ear plugs as he tends to freak out a bit, but he always goes well at home.
“The lads are keen to go to Cheltenham and he is entered in a few races, but I think after that we’ll go for the two-miler (Supreme Novices’).”
BetDirect and totesport go 16-1 from 66-1 for the Cheltenham Festival opener, with Sean Graham 25-1 and William Hill 33-1 (from 100-1). De Valira is now 10-1 from 5s with Cashmans.
Meade had no luck with the ex-John Gosden inmate Signatory in the Eadestown GAA Club Maiden Hurdle.
The five-year-old was bought for 90,000 guineas by JP McManus, but was struggling to go with the leaders in the final two furlongs and faded to finish sixth.
However, McManus won the Space Cabins Grand National Trial courtesy of Charlie Swan’s Teeming Rain (5-1) and he also took the Sporting Index P P Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase with the Enda Bolger-trained Heads Onthe Ground (3-1 favourite).
The closing Rockview (QR) INH Flat Race was won in impressive style by Edward O’Grady’s Judge Roy Bean.
A gelded son of Sadler’s Wells, the 6-4 favourite, running in the dark blue colours of Sue Magnier and ridden by her son JP Magnier, has loftier targets awaiting after a seven-length romp.
“I think he is a Cheltenham bumper horse, but I will leave it entirely up to the owners,” O’Grady said.
Cashmans were impressed and go 12-1, with William Hill 25-1.