Fairyhouse next stop for triumphant Rebel Fitz
ALL roads lead to Fairyhouse for Rebel Fitz after the 2012 Galway Hurdle hero made a winning return to action with a smooth display at Cork.
Mick Winters' charge was returning to the smaller obstacles for the first time in almost a year having won five of his seven starts during a novice campaign over fences, with his final appearance a narrow defeat to Third Intention at Cheltenham in October.
The nine-year-old suffered an odds-on reverse at the hands of the talented Tarla in this event 12 months ago and the Willie Mullins-trained mare was sent off a well-supported 15/8 favourite to confirm those placings.
Tarla bowled along at the head of affairs for much of the two-and-a-half-mile journey in the hands of Paul Townend, closely pursued by Jennies Jewel and Rebel Fitz under Barry Geraghty.
Jennies Jewel dropped away from the home turn, leaving the main two protagonists to fight it out.
Tarla looked to be travelling the better of the two after jumping the third-last flight, but was a spent force after the next and Rebel Fitz quickly asserted to seal a comfortable victory. "He was very good," said Geraghty. "He went to sleep, but I gave him a squeeze. I wasn't intending on challenging for the lead at the second last, but I was happy enough to put the race to bed at that stage."
A delighted Winters said he was pleasantly surprised by the victory of his 9/4 chance, and the big novice chase at Fairyhouse's Easter Festival is now the target.
"We all said this time last year that he was a small bit off, but he got a bit healthier as the year moved on. Hopefully we'll see the real horse this year," said the Kanturk handler. "It will be another two or three weeks before he hits his peak and his second run is normally his best run.
"He'll have a crack at the Powers Gold Cup now and after that there is a Grade One novice chase over two miles at Punchestown. We've had no winners since Christmas and the horses haven't been quite right, but a good horse will always pull you out of a ruck."
There was better luck for Mullins earlier when Paul Townend made a winning comeback after a near two-week absence with a shoulder injury when Shamsikhan justified odds-on favouritism in the opener.
The former champion was one of a number of riders to be sidelined at Cheltenham, having taken a tumble when Adriana Des Mottes was brought down in the Triumph Hurdle.
The Mullins-trained gelding tracked the front-running Easter Hunt as the pair went clear entering the straight, and the 4/7 market leader was sent on approaching the final flight.
However, Townend's fitness was put to the test as Like It A Lot came with a strong challenge from off the pace to get within a fast-diminishing head, with Easter Hunt a neck back in third.
Mullins and Townend's bid for a double with Andiamos in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle was thwarted by Mikey Fogarty aboard Liz Doyle's 20/1 outsider Maguire's Glen, but Mullins did secure a brace when Killer Crow (10/11 favourite) landed the bumper in the hands of son Patrick.
The Cronin family from nearby Doneraile enjoyed a real red-letter day as Willie Cronin guided his father William's Notification to victory in the CIT Students Union Facebook Handicap Hurdle. There was another local success in the two-and-a half-mile maiden hurdle as Brian O'Connell kept John Joe Walsh's wayward Sonny B straight over the final flight to take the spoils.
Elsewhere, Robbie Hennessy's appeal against the result of the Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Chase at Clonmel has been successful after his runner-up Mister First was given the race by the Irish Turf Club, who relegated Ryan Treacy's winner More Madness to second due to interference.