Nolan's Panther claws his way to Navan glory
MICHAEL O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud's colours were back in the winner's enclosure after Panther Claw claimed the featured EBF Novice Handicap Chase Final at Navan.
Third in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park in January, Paul Nolan's 6/1 shot crept into contention heading down the back straight and was in front by the time he tackled the third fence from the finish.
It was hard work in the testing conditions for jockey Barry Geraghty, and Saoirse Dun made a real race of it after the last, but Panther Claw found extra to take the spoils by a length and three quarters. King Of The Refs was back in third, with favourite Wise Oscar last of just four finishers from the 16 runners.
"Everything went right for him, especially the ground. He really handles those conditions," Nolan said. "He could sneak into the bottom of the Irish National. He usually comes out of his races well, although that was a real dour slog."
Most impressive winner of the afternoon was Dermot Weld's Some Tikket, which annihilated his rivals in the maiden hurdle over two and a half miles. A bumper winner at the track a little more than a fortnight ago, the 4/6 favourite hurdled fluently on his jumping bow and passed the post with 11 lengths in hand without being extended by Robbie McNamara.
"He won the way you'd expect him to win and I think we'll have a crack at either the Grade Two at Fairyhouse or the Grade One at Punchestown over two and a half miles," said Weld.
"He's a very nice horse and the way he's worked I'd say he wants much better ground. He's also capable of winning on the Flat."
Earlier, Ruby Walsh guided Suntiep to record a hard-fought front-running success in the opening novice hurdle. Walsh made full use of the unbeaten French import's proven stamina, and the 7/4 was prominent all the way along with Maccas Lad.
The Willie Mullins-trained gelding assumed full command at the second last but was soon strongly pressed by Irish Thistle and favourite Bonisland, which travelled well in behind.
Bonisland was asked to challenge at the final flight but Gordon Elliott's charge couldn't find a way past the seven-year-old, which stuck on well to post a three-and-a-half-length victory.
"He's very tough. I'd say last October if you told us he'd be three from three we'd have all laughed at you but he's tough, honest and jumps," said Walsh.
Cheltenham's leading jockey was expected to follow up in the two-mile maiden hurdle, but 4/9 favourite City Slicker proved a huge disappointment.
Man of the moment Bryan Cooper shone yet again as he guided Nearly Nama'd (9/2) to a cosy, front-running success for his boss Dessie Hughes.
City Slicker was still travelling under Walsh but, after a slightly untidy jump at the last, found little and Nearly Nama'd kept on strongly for an easy nine-length success. City Slicker couldn't even hold for second spot as 25/1 shot Bold Revenge got there close to home.
Paddy Mangan stepped in for a winning ride aboard John Joe Walsh's Hillman in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase. Mark Enright was supposed to ride the 7/1 shot, but was stood down after a fall in the previous race and Mangan had to use all of his strength to edge out favourite Easy Vic by a nose.