Zaarito jumps into Fairyhouse picture
WEXFORD trainer Colm Murphy, who is pinning his current Cheltenham hopes on just Big Zeb and Voler La Vedette, has resisted the temptation to add the enigmatic Zaarito to his Cotswolds raiding party.
Despite the Victoria Syndicate's talented gelding landing the odds in style under Davy Condon at Naas yesterday in the Directors Plate Novice Chase, Murphy has the Powers Gold Cup firmly in his sights rather than the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy.
"It's great to see him win again after what happened at Leopardstown last month and he definitely goes to Fairyhouse rather than Cheltenham. We knew from that last day he has the class if his jumping came right.
"He's starting to grow up a bit and hopefully, he'll stop doing stupid things -- you saw today he can jump okay. Davy Condon was very pleased with him and thinks he was helped by the better ground here," Colm remarked.
The Gorey handler confirmed the availability of in-form Cheltenham specialist Barry Geraghty for Voler La Vedette (David Nicholson Mares Hurdle), in addition to stable star Big Zeb in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
"I'm happy to send the mare to the festival without a prep run since Leopardstown after Christmas, when she wasn't fully wound up. She goes well fresh, but has to settle for Barry over there if she's to win again," he added.
The featured Lucan Racing Leinster National proved a case of more of the same for champion trainer Willie Mullins and his protege Paul Townend, as Ballytrim replicated Emma Jane's victory of a year ago.
On that occasion, the ill-fated mare got home by a short head from Florida Express and yesterday Ballytrim also had to get the full treatment on the run-in from Townend to foil his cousin Condon aboard Bluesea Cracker.
Still figuring among the entries for the Aintree Grand National, Ballytrim is more likely to be contesting the Powers Whiskey Irish version at Fairyhouse.
"He's still in at Aintree, but probably won't get into that race and Fairyhouse would be the obvious alternative. The better going may have helped Ballytrim, although I told his Cork owners not to travel today," Mullins explained.
The champion trainer went on to complete a double with the help of his son Patrick, who made most aboard A Fine Young Man for a winning debut in the concluding bumper.
Running in the Dorans Pride colours of Tom Doran, the Mullins-trained gelding stayed on well for a four-length success from the promising Seafield, a half-brother to Joncol.
Talented Cork pilot Kevin Coleman staged a splendid comeback from injury, and rewarded the loyalty of locally based trainer Oliver McKiernan, as Whodoyouthink justified heavy support for the opening Novice Hurdle.
Only third two out and still in arrears of main market rival Silver Friend over the final flight, the favourite relished the climb to the post to take control in a matter of strides as Stonemaster rallied late to split the pair.
"I was worried early in the straight that we might only be third, but he showed a nice turn of foot from the last. It's great for us as well as Kevin that he came back with a winner today," McKiernan remarked.
Sidelined for three months after breaking his leg in a schooling accident, Coleman only just got cleared to renew his partnership with Whodoyouthink, which is likewise bound for Fairyhouse at Easter.
Colourful Monaghan trainer Oliver Brady was in fine voice after Seeability ran out a convincing winner of the three-mile maiden hurdle.
John Cullen produced his mount to lead after the second last and the Bob Back gelding galloped on strongly for a nine-length success.
Dancing Tornado (12/1) reverted back to hurdles in style to land the Naas Supporters Handicap Hurdle under a canny ride from Adrian Heskin. Michael Hourigan's nine-year-old landed a Grade Two event over the bigger obstacles earlier in the season and looked well treated on his best form.
Heskin refused to panic when Nintytwo Team went for home and coaxed his mount home for a three-quarters of a length success. Questions Answered was third with A New Story, a stablemate of the winner, fourth.
Hourigan said: "He didn't jump well on his last couple of runs over fences and we wanted to sharpen him up a bit. I'm delighted that Adrian got a chance to ride him -- that's his 11th winner. He's only 17, so I'm minding him a bit."
Jack The Bus proved a game winner of the 2m 3f handicap chase for trainer Peter Casey and jockey Robbie Power -- holding off the challenge of Tooman Lane to score by a length.
Legendary gambler Barney Curley returns to Galway's Salthill Hotel this evening (8.0) for the ninth Cheltenham preview organised by NUIG Racing Society, who donate the profits to Curley's Direct Aid For Africa charity. Nina Carberry, Davy Condon and Philip Fenton join Matt Williams and Donn McClean on the panel.