Solwhit delights Byrnes with commanding victory
French-bred Solwhit followed the lead given the previous weekend by fellow multiple Grade One scorers Kauto Star and Big Zeb when repeating last year's success as a well-backed favourite for the Dobbins & Madigans Hurdle at Punchestown yesterday.
The Charles Byrnes-trained gelding was always up with the pace set by hat-trick seeker Donnas Palm, with Davy Russell taking the initiative in the straight after disputing the lead over the second-last obstacle.
From that point onwards, it was clear Donnas Palm had no more to give and Paul Townend, biding his time on main market rival Voler La Vedette, arrived with a last-flight challenge which was never going to upset the on-course plunge on this Byrnes hotpot. "We'll see how he comes out of this and may run him again in a fortnight for the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse," Byrnes said.
"He won't be trained specifically for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham -- we will be going for all those Grade Ones here and maybe bringing him back to Aintree as he gets two and a half miles well and likes it there."
Generally offered at 10/1 for the Cheltenham showpiece, Solwhit was quoted afterwards at 12/1 with Ladbrokes, despite their course representative reportedly laying a hefty five-figure bet for yesterday's feature.
Should the sturdy six-year-old resume at Fairyhouse, Russell's mount could be opposed again by both Donnas Palm and particularly Voler La Vedette, which probably gave the best performance of her career to date for Colm Murphy's Gorey yard.
"I'm delighted with the mare as she's settling well this season and was staying on to the line today," Murphy said. "She will get two and a half miles and the Hatton's Grace is an option. We could be going back with her to Cheltenham in March."
The session's other Graded events were contested over fences and former champion trainer Noel Meade enjoyed a change of luck after the previous weekend's series of setbacks as odds-on Realt Dubh and Thegreatjohnbrowne starred in turn under Davy Condon.
In the regretted absence of impressive recent course and distance winner Noble Prince, Realt Dubh was all the rage to compensate for a rare jumping lapse in Galway behind Head Of The Posse and didn't disappoint in the Craddockstown Novice Chase.
Condon took his time to work the favourite into contention as stable companion Darceys Dancer and bottom weight Save My Blushes took them along at a steady gallop, eventually seizing the chance to assert off the last bend as Gates Of Rome tried his best to close up.
"We will cover him up the next time, probably in the Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse, as he wandered about when he went to the front there," Meade remarked.
The stable's other clear-cut market leader, Thegreatjohnbrowne, was even more impressive when leading throughout the Florida Pearl Novice Chase, throwing some giant leaps as Condon's strapping mount steadily ground his four rivals into submission.
Wexford builder Murt Doran, currently working in Abu Dhabi, named the winner after his father-in-law and this Beneficial gelding, which holds the Drinmore Chase engagement as well, would look a natural for the three-mile event won by stablemate Pandorama at Leopardstown last Christmas.
The Listed mares race at the Dublin track's late December gathering is the preferred port of call next for Wexford trainer Colin Bowe's consistent Askanna, which got back in the groove in the Festival Hospitality Hurdle with a brave defeat of Sweet My Lord.
Jessica Harrington's Oscars Well turned the maiden hurdle into a procession as he cruised to a nine-length victory under Robbie Power, while Darwins Fox battled gamely to open his account in the concluding bumper.