Tombstone rolls over his old rival Jezki
Tombstone gave Bryan Cooper a big winner on his return from injury as he claimed the scalp of former Champion Hurdle hero Jezki in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran Park.
Fourth behind Altior, Min and Buveur D'Air in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last season, Gordon Elliott's seven-year-old was only third to Jezki on his comeback at Navan and had nearly three lengths to find.
The 9/4 chance took the lead off Rory O'Moore on the run to three out, with Jezki in his slipstream. The 2/5 favourite closed up at the second-last but Tombstone pulled out more and while neither horse was particularly fluent at the final obstacle, Cooper's mount kept going to prevail by four lengths for Grade Three honours.
Cooper, returning from a fractured pelvis sustained on New Year's Eve, said: "We always thought he was a fair horse, I was looking forward to him going chasing this year, but next year is another year and he did it very well.
"I watched the race in Navan back about 10 times and it didn't look like they went very quick, so today I was making sure of a strong-run race, I wasn't afraid to take it up at the third-last.
"The one thing I wanted to do was knock the speed out of Jezki, I know he stays three miles but he is still a Champion Hurdle winner and I had that in the back of my mind. One thing I do like is when he missed the last he picked up and went again, so he's definitely one to look forward to."
Elliott said: "I felt he'd improved a lot from Navan, and we were giving Jezki weight the last day. It was a good performance. He was going to go chasing, but he had a few setbacks. He'll go over fences next year."
Jezki's trainer Jessica Harrington was not too downhearted, saying: "I'm perfectly happy with him. I knew it was a risk coming here on the ground. We know if we look back at all his races he doesn't like heavy ground.
"He beat Tombstone in Navan, but Tombstone was giving him weight and today at level weights it probably worked out exactly the same race.
"He doesn't like that ground and quite honestly, as long as he comes back in one piece I'm quite happy. We are going to go to Cheltenham, but what we go for we'll make that decision in the next few days. I suppose it's all what arrives on the day at Cheltenham."
Ballycasey ran out a determined winner of the Grade Two Red Mills Chase. Willie Mullins's grey was returning from a mid-season break but won the PWC Champion Chase over course and distance in October and was sent off the 4/7 favourite.
Clarcam took the lead off Montys Meadow at the fourth-last and appeared to be going better than Ballycasey, who went in pursuit, but Ruby Walsh had not played his hand and when he did approaching the last, Ballycasey found more reserves of stamina to pass Clarcam and score by four and a quarter lengths.
Mullins said: "I thought he was going nowhere going past the stands, and he seemed to get his second wind going up the back. His jumping kept him in the race, and to win on that ground was good."
Sunday Indo Sport