Felix Yonger digs deep to land Hilly Way prize
Despite not relishing the rain-sodden conditions, Felix Yonger produced a determined display under Ruby Walsh to successfully defend his crown in the rescheduled Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase at Navan.
The Grade Two contest had twice been saved after the cancellation of racing at Cork on successive Sundays and a strong field of five went to post, including three previous winners.
Felix Yonger, which won the race last year, was the 11/10 favourite for Willie Mullins following an encouraging reappearance when third in last month's Clonmel Oil Chase and was held up off the pace for much of the two-mile-one-furlong journey.
Hidden Cyclone, turning out little over a week after unseating his rider in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase, did not jump with much enthusiasm early on, but gradually warmed to his task to ensure he remained in front turning for home.
Henry de Bromhead's 2012 Hilly Way hero Days Hotel and closing pair Felix Yonger and Bright New Dawn were all in with a chance racing between the final two fences and it was Felix Yonger which picked up best to lead at the last, where a bold leap sealed his two-and-a-half-length victory.
Bright New Dawn was second, with Hidden Cyclone third. "He did it well. The ground was heavy enough for him," said Walsh. "He had the form in the book and had a good run in Clonmel. He finished off last season in style."
Walsh and Mullins completed a double together when Black Hercules claimed the Drogheda Beginners' Chase. Formerly a smart bumper horse and beaten just once over hurdles when seventh in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, the six-year-old tracked Marlbrook before being left in front after six out as the leader slithered to a halt on landing and was pulled up.
The race was effectively over from there, with the 8/15 favourite jumping fluently and coming home 12 lengths clear of stablemate Sambremont.
The champion trainer went on to record a treble in the bumper when Avenir D'Une Vie easily justified 8/11 favouritism in the hands of son Patrick.
The Eddie Harty-trained Queens Wild claimed victory after a pulsating climax to the Grade Three Mares Novice Chase, in which Gordon Elliott's consistent performer Miss Dinamic was sent off 11/4 market leader to give weight and a beating to her rivals. Favourite-backers looked set to be rewarded when the six-year-old hit the front between the final two fences, but the complexion of the race changed dramatically on the run-in.
As Miss Dinamic began to tread water, the Mick Winters-trained Perfect Woman roared back tenaciously to hit the front, only to be caught in the shadows of the post by 11/1 shot Queens Wild and Adrian Heskin.
This completed a double for Harty who took the opening maiden hurdle with the Davy Russell-ridden Moon Over Germany (11/4), while Elliott was another to land a brace courtesy of 1/3 hotpot Whistle Dixie, which cruised to victory in the mares' maiden hurdle under Bryan Cooper, and Nickname Exit which justified 7/2 favouritism to land the handicap chase in the hands of the talented Jack Kennedy.