French-breds revelled in the mud at Punchestown yesterday when taking the first four races on the card, highlighted by a silky-smooth success for hotpot So Young in the novice hurdle, landed last year by Dermot Weld's Royal Ascot hero Rite Of Passage.
The latter was subsequently third to Peddlers Cross in Cheltenham's Neptune Investment Novices Hurdle and that keenly-contested affair in the Cotswolds next month is firmly on the agenda now for So Young, according to his champion trainer Willie Mullins.
"We'll see what happens with Zaidpour at Leopardstown on Saturday and keep our options open for both. At the moment, I'd expect Zaidpour will go for the Supreme Novices Hurdle and So Young the Neptune over an extra half a mile," Mullins said.
Always travelling snugly in the slipstream of Big Game Hunter, Paul Townend waited until approaching the final flight before allowing the favourite draw alongside Davy Russell's mount. The issue was soon decided once that obstacle had been negotiated and this multiple scorer, which once more greatly impressed championship leader Townend, is best-priced at 12/1 to scoop the Neptune spoils.
Then the boot was on the other foot in the Goffs Sale Maiden Hurdle as stablemate Popcorn, on which Patrick Mullins went for home rounding the last bend, was eventually run out of the prize late on as Russell got a fine tune out of the better-backed Tofino Bay.
That useful inmate of the Dessie Hughes yard carries the colours of Michael O'Leary, who was present to also greet Gordon Elliott's decisive Limerick scorer Roi Du Mee after likewise romping away with the Facebook Novice Chase to initiate the champion owner's double along with Russell.
Tracking the free-going Bob Lingo from the outset, Elliott's son of Lavirco, which is also the fashionable sire of So Young, took command three out for Russell and it was all over bar a fall then, with Elliott later nominating a Grade Two Naas contest on Sunday week as the next port of call.
However, the opening Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase didn't go according to plan for O'Leary's second favourite One Cool Cookie, which unseated Adrian Heskin early at Ruby's Double, easing the task of odds-on Garde Champetre, which had a struggle on his hands to overtake front-running Lord Nellerie on the run-in.
Registering an eighth win from 10 starts in this type of event under Nina Carberry, Enda Bolger's veteran never looked happy on the very testing infield surface and required plenty of encouragement from his regular partner to book yet another trip to Cheltenham for the main Glenfarclas promotion.