Conor O'Dwyer has his eyes on Fairyhouse at Easter after his Folsom Blue landed yesterday's Grand National Trial Handicap Chase in the hands of Bryan Cooper.
Placed in a Grade Two as a novice hurdler, and also a Listed-race winner, Folsom Blue was getting off the mark over fences at the fourth time of asking in the Racing UK-sponsored marathon.
The seven-year-old – running in the colours of Gigginstown House Stud – sat in just behind the leaders for most of the three-and-a-half-mile journey as Sole Witness attempted to make every yard of the running.
Sole Witness managed to fend off the challenge of the other Gigginstown runner, Quito De La Roque, approaching the straight, but Folsom Blue quickly took up the cudgel.
The 7/1 second favourite hit the front just before the last and off his light weight of 10-1, he stayed on strongly to win by three-and-a-half lengths, with Are Ya Right Chief back in third.
"It was a great run for his first handicap. He loves that bottomless ground," explained O'Dwyer. "We will have to look at the Irish National now, but he would need plenty of cut in the ground. He is only small and his low weight made a big difference, too."
Earlier, Arvika Ligeonniere turned the Boylesports Cottage Chase into a procession and is now likely to head to Cheltenham for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. The Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old is five from five at Punchestown, having been beaten into third when favourite at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Special Tiara cut out the running, but Ruby Walsh's mount took much closer order with over half a mile to run and jumped three out with a fractional advantage. That was extended significantly at the second-last and the race was over once the 2/7 chance pinged the final fence to come home unchallenged from Toner D'Oudairies.
"We decided to let him roll along today," said Mullins. "He fiddled one, the ditch at the bottom of the hill, but he jumped everything else very well.
"Ruby felt there was plenty in the tank, so I reckon we'll go to Cheltenham again, probably for the Champion Chase, although I've probably entered him in everything. He has won a Grade One going left-handed and if we don't go to Cheltenham, there is nothing else for him before the Festival back here."
Wicklow Brave added further strength to the formidable armoury of Mullins with an impressive success in the EBF Novice Hurdle. The winner of three bumpers before making a winning debut over timber at Cork in January, the five-year-old went off the 6/4 second-favourite behind Lieutenant Colonel (5/4) and the front two in the market were always moving with menace.
Lieutenant Colonel took over from Real Steel after the second-last but could never get away from Walsh and Wicklow Brave, which cantered to the front approaching the final flight only to make a bit of a mess of it. Soon on an even keel, he was gathered by Walsh to stroll home with lots in hand, a victory made all the more noteworthy as he was quite free-going in the early stages.
"That will do him now before going across (to Cheltenham), I don't think he'll have another run before that," Mullins said of the Supreme Novices' contender. "He pulled very hard and the pace they will go over there will suit him much better. To pull out what he did going to the last, having pulled as hard as he did in the first part of the race, was very good I thought."
The Glenfarclas PP Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase went the way of Love Rory as Nina Carberry held the challenge of her brother Paul on Big Shu.
The race effectively turned into a sprint and it was the Enda Bolger-trained Love Rory, the 2/1 favourite, that got first run, with Big Shu putting in a huge effort on his first start since the big Punchestown meeting in April.
Early casualties had included the Bishopsfurze which failed to negotiate the big double bank where two others came to grief. All jockeys, including Patrick Mullins, walked away from the incident.
Jessica Harrington combined with amateur rider Paddy Kennedy to take the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle with Jetson, while the JP McManus colours were carried to victory by Noel Meade's Chancol in the opening maiden hurdle as Paul Carberry's mount beat 20/1 shot Springbelle by three-parts of a length.