Briar Hill shows class with dominant display
CHELTENHAM bumper winner Briar Hill looks sure to have the Festival on his plate again, although connections will have learned little from yesterday's victory over a solitary rival in the Navan Novice Hurdle.
The Grade One feature had been reduced to a match after the late defection of the Noel Meade-trained pair Apache Stronghold and Very Wood, but the winner could be very good.
Bearing the perils of a tactical race in mind, Ruby Walsh decided to make the pace on the Willie Mullins-trained inmate and, despite having to do the donkey work, the 1/4 favourite's class shone through.
Sole rival Azorian tried to put it up to the Andrea and Graham Wylie-owned five-year-old, but when challenged, Briar Hill pulled away between the last two flights to win by four and three-quarter lengths.
"It was a tactical race and we weren't sure if Azorian would jump off in front or drop in. Our fellow proved in Wexford that he was able to jump in front," said Mullins.
"He's a lovely relaxed individual and he stays. He could go out to three miles if we want. I'd imagine we'll be looking at two and a half miles or longer. He seems to have loads of stamina.
"Christmas might come a little bit too soon for him and we could possibly look at the Slaney Hurdle at Naas in January. He is closely related to Boston Bob. Last year he showed nothing at home but this year he is showing at home what he's doing on the track."
Walsh was also happy with the performance, explaining: "He only does the bare minimum and I suppose that's a good thing. I thought I was riding the best horse so I tried to keep it as simple as I could.
"The way he races you probably wouldn't go back in trip but he's not slow. I suppose we'll leave every option open. I'll leave it up to Willie. He'll find the races for him."
Success in the two-and-a-half-mile feature was the middle leg of a treble for Mullins who had earlier struck with Sizing Tennessee, which made a winning debut over obstacles in the opening maiden hurdle.
The 9/4 favourite pulled three and three-quarter lengths clear of market rival Rock The World to score cosily under Andrew Lynch.
"I couldn't get him fit and I feel he'll improve quite a bit. He came in very strong from grass," revealed Mullins.
"He's a natural jumper being by Robin Des Champs. He disappointed at Cheltenham last year (in the Champion Bumper) but he might be back on track now. He's starting to show what he shows me in his homework."
Mullins' three-timer was sealed in the Grade Two 'Future Champions' INH Flat Race by Royal Caviar, ridden by his son Patrick, although the 1/4 shot had to survive a stewards' inquiry after his hard-fought success over Fine Rightly. Eventually Mullins was handed a five-day ban for careless riding.
Lynch completed a double in the Alan and Ann Potts colours when partnering Sizing Gold to victory in the beginners chase.
The 9/10 chance, trained by Henry De Bromhead, made a promising debut over fences as he accounted for Mullaghanoe River by four lengths.
"I've always liked him. His form is good when you look at the horses he has beaten and the horses that beat him," said De Bromhead.
"He was a bit disappointing at Fairyhouse so we backed off him. He's such a big horse and probably had enough racing last year.
"He'll maybe have one more run after Christmas and then we'll look at the spring. There is a three-mile race in Naas and a two-mile-five in Leopardstown in January."
Jarlath Fahey's Jennies Jewel (10/1) kept He'llberemembered at bay by half a length to take the Tara Handicap Hurdle in the hands of 3lb claimer Ian McCarthy. However, Tony McCoy was out of luck as he took a fall at the fourth flight from the 100/30 favourite Colbert Station.
Arthur Moore's Hop In (7/2 favourite) ended a frustrating run of four seconds to open his account under Dave Casey in the Beauparc Handicap Hurdle, while Philip Enright guided Robert Tyner's well-backed Oscars Business to victory in the two-and-a-half mile handicap chase.