champion trainer Willie Mullins experienced an afternoon of mixed fortunes at Naas yesterday with three beaten favourites but a feature-race success nevertheless as 6/1 chance Gagewell Flyer took the Grade Two Slaney Novice Hurdle in impressive fashion.
Partnered by Willie's nephew Emmet, Navan maiden scorer Gagewell Flyer -- which was well adrift of the yard's favourite Bishopsfurze when they met in a Punchestown bumper last April -- fared much better than Paul Townend's mount this time.
The trailing market leader was already error-prone before being effectively put out of the race four out when Si C'etait Vrai fell in front of him, leaving Emmet to continue dictating up front and ultimately scoring with something to spare from Fists Of Fury.
This was the Closutton handler's third Slaney Novice Hurdle victory in the past half-dozen renewals, Homer Wells having obliged in 2005 and Mikael D'Haguenet two years ago with last year's race being abandoned following a snowstorm.
"Bishopsfurze did here what I thought might happen the last day in Cork -- he has no respect for his hurdles," observed Mullins, who will be entering Gagewell Flyer in both the Neptune Investment Novices Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
"Emmet gets them jumping very well and it's his third winner in the past week for me. Gagewell Flyer is improving all the time and he wouldn't have any problem stretching out to three miles," he added of the Deploy gelding.
The preceding Irish Stallion Farms EBF Novice Chase didn't go to plan either for the Mullins-Townend alliance as the odds-on Cadspeed failed to pick up in the home straight when asked to close on Uncle Tom Cobley and top weight Prince Erik.
The latter duo indulged in a brief duel after the final fence that always looked to be going in favour of Nicky O'Shea's 9/2 mount which trainer Conor O'Dwyer rerouted here after a planned crack at a Limerick maiden 'chase that was abandoned last week.
"This horse likes a good gallop on a proper track and we will find a winner's race somewhere next. He disappointed us last season, but I was happy with his jumping today and the way he quickened after the last fence," commented O'Dwyer.
Sweeney Tunes, in the same Gigginstown House Stud colours of Michael O'Leary, and newcomer Tusa Eire for Willie and Patrick Mullins were all the rage in the betting for the bumper, only for each to be outpaced in the dash for the line by Willie John which Noel Meade owns and trains.
"He loves the soft ground although I didn't think we had enough done with him to win first time out," remarked Meade as Nina Carberry extended her lead over both reigning title-holder Patrick Mullins and Mikey Fogarty to three winners (21-18) in the amateur table.
Kerry teenager Bryan Cooper suffered bruising to a wrist in a fall at Punchestown on Friday but bounced back in style by landing the opening maiden hurdle for his boss Dessie Hughes on hotpot White Star Line.
Tipperary's Martin Burke, older brother of leading English-based apprentice Julie, chalked up his first victory as a professional when Tim Doyle's Quarton outstayed favourite Driveheron for the juvenile maiden hurdle prize.