Tom Taaffe still hopes to run Kicking King in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup despite a disappointing performance at Gowran Park.
The 2005 Gold Cup winner could only finish a well-beaten third behind shock winner Ballistraw in the Red Mills Chase.
In his second comeback run following a long lay-off, Kicking King failed to get in a serious blow as Ballistraw, the 33-1 outsider of four, landed the spoils for jockey Andrew McNamara and trainer Denis Hickey.
Barry Geraghty was not hard on the Conor Clarkson-owned gelding once his chance had gone.
“Obviously I’d have been much happier if he’d have won,” said Taaffe.
“If he’s still fine in the next couple of days it’s still onwards for the Gold Cup.
“There’ll be no pressure now going into the Gold Cup. I always said from day one I was training him for one day and I still am.”
Knight Legend took the field along and soon built up a commanding lead over Kicking King and Ballistraw.
After Justified fell at the ninth fence, the others started to cut into Knight Legend’s lead.
Kicking King threatened briefly in the straight but it was Ballistraw who threw down the gauntlet to Knight Legend.
Although neither of the two leaders jumped the final fence well, it was Ballistraw who sauntered into the lead to win by three-quarters of a length with Kicking King 13 lengths away in third.
VC Bet removed him from the Gold Cup betting while Coral pushed him out to 33-1 to regain his crown.
Meanwhile, a delighted Hickey said: “If you’re not in it, you can’t win and he jumped well.
“He didn’t go at all in his last race. A mistake at the first might have affected him but he was never going. It’s as big a surprise to me as it to anyone else.”
McNamara completed a 186-1 big-race double on Catch Me (9-2) in the Red Mills Centenary Trial Hurdle.
Taking over from long-time leader Scarthy Lad before the third-last, Catch Me lived up to his name as he bounded away from the opposition.
The six-year-old, trained by Edward O’Grady pulled clear after jumping the last to win by four-and-a-half lengths from Jazz Messenger with Larkwing third.
“He always seemed to have them covered and always looked as if he would win,” said O’Grady.
“I think it worked out well today but the ground is very testing.
“He was very, very sick at Thurles last time but I was confident he was as well as he could be today and will improve.
“He was third in the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle last year but I regretted running him – we should have gone for the Supreme when Clopf didn’t make it.
“That was a nice performance though and I think we could get away with the ground at Cheltenham for one day.”
Apt Approach (5-2) was trimmed to 7-1 from 16-1 for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at the Festival after a clear-cut victory in the Rockview INH Flat Race.
The Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old made a pleasing debut under Rules to easily beat Grancore Girl by 14 lengths.
Mullins said: “We seem to have unearthed a nice prospect. He’s bound for Cheltenham after that.
“He wouldn’t light up a gallop at home but we were hoping he would show more on the track.”