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Freedom takes steps to glory

Jessica Harrington's Steps To Freedom battled well to land the spoils in the Opus Energy Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham yesterday to complete a double for Irish raiders on the first day of the Open Meeting.

The 11/8 favourite claimed the Grade Two contest and a third win over hurdles in the space of seven weeks to earn a well-deserved break which may see him off the track until reappearing in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle in March.

Harrington's five-year-old had to dig deep to repel the challenge of the Paul Nicholls-trained Prospect Wells, and the winning trainer reported that the gelding would not be given a break and may be next seen in competitive action in the first race of the Cheltenham Festival.

"He's a very nice prospect and he might not even run before the Festival. He's been on the go all summer and has had three runs over hurdles," said Harrington.

"Rather than drag the heart out of him all winter we might just put him away."

The Kildare-based trainer admitted that the horse may revert back to the flat if having a run before returning to the Cotswolds.

"He could have a prep run on the all-weather. Today proved he could handle the track (Cheltenham) -- which was a nagging doubt after the way he won at Aintree -- and now we know he battles."

The earlier Cross Country Chase also went the way of the Irish, but the well-backed odds-on favourite Garde Champetre had to settle for second place behind the Willie Mullins-trained Uncle Junior.


It was the champion trainer's first runner in that sphere and his son, and winning rider Patrick, later admitted to not being overly keen ahead of the spin.

"He was a bit careful when we schooled him so I wasn't really that looking forward to riding him beforehand, but he was very good today and it was nice to beat Nina as she's not that easy to pass!"

Meanwhile, at Navan tomorrow, jockey Robbie Power will be hoping he can follow on from his Cheltenham success yesterday when he partners Big Zeb for the first time in public.

The former Champion Chaser faces just four rivals in the Grade Two Fortria Chase as he looks to complete a hat-trick in the race he has farmed in recent years for trainer Colm Murphy.

It could be a good day for Murphy as he also saddles the classy mare Voler La Vedette in the Lismullen Hurdle in which the trainer is hoping that her mares' allowance will be a key factor in overturning the likes of Mikael D'Haguenet and Karabak.

The For Auction Novice Hurdle is a fascinating renewal, with the Noel Meade duo of Dylan Ross and Il Fenomeno taking on the likes of Laganbank and four-year-old Owega Star as well as Grade One entrant Burn And Turn.

The opening maiden hurdle is likely to see Boston Bob go off a very short-price favourite as Graham Wylie has his first runner in Ireland for Willie Mullins on the horse, who was formerly trained in Ireland by Derek Barry.