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Ned stakes claim for Cheltenham tilt

Ned Of The Hill (11/2) emerged as a contender for the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham after an easy victory in the opening maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse yesterday.

Trained by Martina Doran, he had shown decent form on his first two starts over hurdles and stayed on strongly to beat the two market leaders, Colleoni and Fully Funded, by four lengths and three.

First-time cheekpieces worked the oracle on the Robbie Doran-ridden winner. "He is a bit of a trickster and the cheek-pieces helped him. Sometimes he concentrates and sometimes he doesn't," said the trainer. "He is improving though, he might go to Cheltenham for the Fred Winter. We'll see how he comes out of this first and whatever happens, we'll mind him because he is still big and raw."

Jagoes Mills (13/8 favourite) looks to be going places after scoring a nine-length victory over fences in the novice chase. Winning trainer Thomas O'Leary said: "A winners-of-two or a Graded race will be next for him. He'd want the ground no quicker than yielding for safety. He jumps great."

Mr Clyde emphatically broke his duck over hurdles in the Irish Racing Post Maiden Hurdle. Trained by Pat Flynn and ridden by Stevie Gray, the 5/2 chance powered clear of Green Mining to win by eight lengths. "He wants good ground and he is just a lovely horse. He'll win nicer races than this hopefully," said Flynn.

Ruby Walsh pulled the staying handicap chase out of the fire on 5/4 favourite Saddlers Storm. Tony Martin's charge looked to face a tall order but Walsh rallied his mount to get up close home.

"We'll keep him to those three-mile races. I wouldn't be getting carried away though, the jockey won it for him," said Martin.

Meanwhile, Barry Geraghty is in no hurry to choose between Punjabi or Zaynar as his ride in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.

The Meath rider won the Champion last year on Punjabi, but also partnered Zaynar to victory in the 2009 Triumph Hurdle. Both horses are trained by Nicky Henderson, and Geraghty admits it will be a tough decision. "It's very hard to split them. The Champion Hurdle is a wide-open race. We will have to wait and see closer to the time," he said.

Zaynar, who is due to run in the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso next Thursday, is a 5/1 shot for the Champion, while Punjabi is 14/1 to retain his title.

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A decision on whether Irish Arkle winner An Cathaoir Mor will run at Navan on Sunday will be made in the next 48 hours.

Henry de Bromhead's imposing seven-year-old would be forced to give weight away all round in the Flyingbolt Novice Chase due to his Grade One penalty. His other option would be to step up in trip to two-and-a-half miles for the Nas Na Riogh Chase at Naas a week later.

"I'm not sure if he runs yet, we are just going to think about it before making a decision later on in the week," said De Bromhead. "We have to consider the fact he is giving weight away to everything. I haven't spoken to his owner yet so we'll decide within the next couple of days.

"Another factor is that he loves heavy ground so we'd like to run him in the next week or two. There's the Nas Na Riogh in a couple of weeks and we are half thinking of stepping him up to two- and-a-half miles to see how that would suit him with a view to the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse."

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