Long odds-on favourite Briar Hill brushed aside the challenge of sole rival Azorian to land the Grade 1 Navan Novice Hurdle in Navan yesterday.
The Shantou gelding, winner of the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltemnham, provided record-breaking champion trainer Willie Mullins with a third consecutive win in an event which turned into a match due to the withdrawal of Noel Meade’s two intended runners, Apache Stronghold (foot abscess) and Very Wood (off feed).
Brian Hill, in the colours of Graham and Andrea Wylie, dictated the pace under Ruby Walsh but never looked happy in front while his rival ran off the bend after the fifth flight.
Davy Russell produced Azorian to challenge at the third last, but his challenge had petered out when Briar Hill winged the last and powered up the hill to triumph by four and three-quarter lengths.
Willie Mullins commented: “It was always going to be a tactical race but our horse was happy enough jumping in front in Wexford and Ruby decided to let him stride on. I was a bit worried when Davy looked up going very easily as it takes our fellow a while to get into top gear.
“This horse seems to have lots of stamina and two and a half miles is a minimum for him. He keeps improving and, for a horse that showed nothing at home last season, he’s now showing us at home what he’s showing on the track.
“Christmas will come too soon for him, so we’ll think about the Grade 2 in Naas (Slaney Hurdle) in January for him.”
Briar Hill was the middle leg of a treble for Mullins - his second in two days - initiated when Sizing Tennessee (Andrew Lynch) made a successful hurdling debut in the opening maiden, proving too strong for Rock The World.
Mullins enthused: “I couldn’t get him fit. He came in very, very strong from grass and should improve plenty from today. He looks a natural jumper and, although he has plenty of pace, he could go out in trip.”
The Mullins treble was completed when Royal Caviar, ridden by Patrick, had to work hard to justify 1/4 favouritism in the bumper, the Grade 2 ‘Future Champions’ Flat Race, before surviving a Stewards Enquiry..
The strapping Vinnie Roe gelding made the running, closed attended by Fine Rightly, was headed before the straight and had edged ahead again when hampering the runner-up, which he stayed on to beat by two and a quarter lengths.
As expected, the placings were unchanged after the subsequent Stewards Enquiry but Patrick Mullins was found guilty of careless riding and suspended for five race-days, starting on December 29.
Willie Mullins said: “We didn’t think there would be much pace in the race and decided to make it. With a money-on shot, you don’t want to get beaten by waiting around. He’s a fine, big, chasing type and will stay in bumpers this season.”
Andrew Lynch, who partnered Sizing Tennessee in the opener, completed a double for Alan and Ann Potts when Sizing Gold, backed into 9/10 favouritism, made an impressive start over fences in the beginners chase.
The six-year-old raced prominently, jumped with enthusiasm and won readily by four lengths from Mullaghanoe River prompting his trainer Henry de Bromhead to explain: “Chasing was always going to be his game and it’s great to be finally at it. It has been frustrating waiting for suitable ground, but he was super and I couldn’t be happier with him.”
De Bromhead plans a spring campaign, and is likely to decide between the Woodlands Park 100 Novice Chase at Naas on January 18 or the Boylesports.com Novice Chase at Leopardstown a week later (both Grade 2 races) as the gelding’s next assignment.
The Jarlath Fahey-trained mare Jennies Jewel, ridden by Ian McCarthy, bagged the €50,000 Tara Handicap Hurdle, holding the late surge of He’llberemebered by a half-length in a race which saw favourite Colbert Station blunder and unseat Tony McCoy at the fourth.
Winning trainer Fahey said: “She’s tough and genuine. She’s been running well and was due one. She picked the right day t do it,” before confirming that Jennies Jewel will now run in the Grade 3 E.B.F. Mares Hurdle on the final day of Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting, December 29.
“You wouldn’t deny him that,” declared Arthur Moore after Hop In, runner-up in his four previous starts, opened his account under David Casey in the Beauparc Handicap Hurdle, battling well to beat the flattering top-weight Blacklough by three-quarters of a length.
Moore added: “There should be another hurdle in him, but he’ll be a grand chaser next season. The bigger track suited him today. He needs a stiff two miles, or further. He’s a good tough horse, with a good engine and a good attitude.”
Robert Tyner is planning a trip to Fairyhouse on New Year’s Day, for a three-mile, one-furlong handicap chase, for Oscars Business following her emphatic victory in the ‘Prancer And Dancer’ Handicap Chase.
“I was hoping the ground would be softer, but she won well and it’s good to have her back to form,” said Tyner, “She lost her form but ran well to the third last in the Cork National, without a prep run, but got tired.”
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