Clonmel double joy for red-hot Mullins
Bishopsfurze survived poor jumps at the final two flights to hold his stablemate Skorcher in yesterday's Surehaul Mercedes-Benz Novice Hurdle at Clonmel.
The Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old (9/10 favourite) was always travelling easily for Paul Townend and cruised into the lead at the fourth-last.
The race looked over bar the shouting until he gave his rivals some hope when blundering at the penultimate obstacle, but he could even afford the luxury of flattening the last as he outclassed the opposition.
Despite those errors through lack of concentration, he hosed up by seven lengths to earn consideration for the Cheltenham Festival, where he holds entries in three novice hurdles.
"I thought he was gone at the second-last and he was lucky to stand up," Mullins said. "Paul said he was idling in front. He said he travelled so well, he had to go to the front.
"He showed today that he has a real engine. I was also delighted with the other horse (Skorcher) and we'll go for something similar with him."
In-form Mullins completed a big-race double when Dooneys Gate was a convincing winner in the Kilcash Chase.
The trainer's son Patrick made his challenge at the third-last and nothing could live with the 10-year-old in the closing stages as the 2/1 favourite strolled to victory by 13 lengths from Northern Alliance.
"He ran well last time and jumped great. I was just a bit worried about the ground being a bit dead for him today," said Mullins snr.
"He's in the Grand National, but could run in the Topham instead. He would be a nice spin for Patrick over those fences."
There was also a 'Mullins' winner in the second division of the Fethard Maiden Hurdle as Down In Neworleans ran out a facile winner for trainer Mags and jockey Danny Mullins.
The 11/10 favourite cruised over the last two on his way to a 28-length success over Sorted, which stayed on into second.
"He's a big, weak horse and is only coming to himself now. He's improving the whole time," said the winning trainer. "He's a huge horse and wants a fence -- he'll go chasing next year. Danny gave him a lovely ride."
In the first division, Definite Class overhauled the well-backed Rathlin to score for the in-form Dessie Hughes and Bryan Cooper.
Another mare, Magen's Star, confirmed her Cheltenham potential when bolting up by 15 lengths in the Kilsheelan Mares Novice Hurdle to retain her unbeaten record over timber.
Tommy Stack's charge was cut to 40/1 with the sponsors for the Stan James Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
"She loves that ground and can't get it soft enough, so plans are ground-dependent," said Stack. "She hadn't run in 90 days as she had an infection in a joint and it blew up a bit. The rest may have done her good."
Salsify took the closing Demesne Hunters Chase in impressive style, running out a convincing winner under Ciaran Fennessy. Roger Sweeney's charge moved into the lead entering the straight and soon got the measure of Island Peak to run out a 12-length winner.
At Wincanton, Barry Geraghty was on the mark with a live Cheltenham contender in Gibb River, which won in the manner expected of a 1/9 favourite in the Carling Novices' Hurdle.
The chestnut is already a better hurdler for Nicky Henderson than he was on the Flat for Peter Chapple-Hyam and has not really been tested in three outings for his new connections.
Despite carrying 10lb more than his rivals, Gibb River showed a sharp turn of foot to carry Geraghty to the front of the field with two flights still to jump before finishing a casual 12 lengths clear.
At the moment he is one of three probable Henderson challengers for the Stan James Supreme Novices' Hurdle, with the sponsors quoting 25/1 for the two-mile Festival curtain-raiser.