Mikael D’Haguenet registered just his second victory over fences in Ireland and quickly got Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins back on the scoreboard in the WT O’Grady Memorial EBF Novice Chase at Thurles.
The nine-year-old looked’s career stalled somewhat after missing a year through injury, and though the engine certainly remains, he has found all manner of ways to get beaten over fences and suffered a heavy fall last time out at Limerick.
There were no alarms this time as Walsh guided the 1-2 favourite to a 12-length success.
“He did it well, he had the race in the bag going down to the last,” said Walsh.
“He has a big engine but he’s had enough falls, I’d say. He’s still got a lot of ability, a huge amount.”
Mullins was relieved after seeing Djakadam come to grief at the last in the preceding race and said: “Phew, there was better luck there. We’ll try and keep him to that sort of trip now (two and a half miles).
“The Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse at Easter is a likely target. He’ll be entered for all those races at Cheltenham but whether or not he goes is another day’s work.
“He is a course winner at Cheltenham so we might have a run before then to make up our minds.”
Roque rules in Kinloch Brae
Quito De La Roque (12-1) bounced right back to his best to win a competitive renewal of the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles.
Colm Murphy’s charge looked a top-class prospect two seasons ago but after beating Sizing Europe over three miles at Down Royal in November 2011, he has not been the same horse.
Roi Du Mee (15-8 favourite) gave him something resembling a race, but he could never get on terms along the straight as Paul Townend gave Quito De La Roque an aggressive ride, with six and a half lengths the winning distance.
Joncol stayed on for third.
Days Hotel made a mistake three out which put paid to his chance - just as he looked to have been improving.
Quito De La Roque has his Gold Cup price halved to 50-1, but the John Smith’s Grand National could be his aim.
Murphy said: “He’s had his fair share of niggly problems. They were nothing major but they had us stopping and starting with him. He ran well up north (Down Royal) in the James Nicholson Chase but then things didn’t happen for him.
“At Aintree things happened too quick for him so it’s nice to be back on track. He’s entered everywhere but he doesn’t have too many options and I’ll see what the lads say.
“The Hennessy and the Gold Cup are there for him and maybe he’ll be a National horse. Time will tell and we’ll dream on for a while.”
Tidal tops Hennessy field
Paul Nicholls’ Lexus hero Tidal Bay is one of the 16 entries in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown on February 9.
Galvanised by Ruby Walsh to come home first in a dramatic finish to the Christmas highlight over course and distance, Tidal Bay could face a rematch with two of the other three horses involved in the conclusion.
Peter Casey’s popular Flemenstar (third) and Sir Des Champs (fourth) have both been entered, with the latter’s trainer Willie Mullins having won the last two renewals of Irish jumping’s flagship race, and eight in total.
He has put in Quel Esprit too, while Henry de Bromhead’s Sizing Europe has been given an entry as the trainer assesses his options.
Nicholls has back-up in jnwine.com Champion Chase winner Kauto Stone, with Jonjo O’Neill giving the option for Ryanair star Albertas Run.
Other notable Irish contenders are Joncol, China Rock, Roi Du Mee, Seabass, Prince De Beauchene and Bog Warrior.
Fever and Eve on Deloitte list
A mouthwatering clash between last season’s first and second from Cheltenham’s Champion Bumper could be on the cards in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on February 9.
The Willie Mullins-trained Champagne Fever and John Ferguson’s New Year’s Eve fought out the finish last March and both have shown promise over hurdles.
However, not everything has gone to plan with Champagne Fever who returned a sick horse after his last run which saw him drift in the betting for Cheltenham’s novices’ hurdles.
New Year’s Eve has only run the once but ran a perfectly respectable second to the classy River Maigue at Kempton. Ferguson has also entered Whispering Gallery, a top-class horse from the level who won his hurdling debut recently.
Mullins has another strong contender, however, in the shape of Pont Alexandre who was a very impressive winner on his first start for the yard in Grade One company at Navan.
Jeremy Scott’s Melodic Rendezvous, a good winner of the Tolworth Hurdle, is another possible British runner.
Meade eyes World prize with Monk
Monksland features among a record entry of 61 for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on Thursday, March 14.
Noel Meade’s charge looks a major player after winning the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown and he is on target for the race and will go straight there.
“All is well with him at the moment and the plan is to run Monksland in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. I am just giving him an easy time - a bit of break - and then we will start building him up for Cheltenham,” said Meade.
“We were hopeful he would get the three miles at Leopardstown because he was staying on well in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, but maybe the way the race was run suited us.
“The leader went off at a hell of a gallop and perhaps the favourite followed him sooner than he should have, but Paul (Carberry) was very good on Monksland.
“With Big Buck’s out of it, the World Hurdle has opened up. Monksland obviously stays well, but he isn’t a slow horse and has the speed to win over two miles. The plan is not to run him before Cheltenham and we are hoping there could be a bit more improvement to come from him.”
Willie Mullins has 10 entries, with Quevega given the option although she is reportedly going to bid for a fifth successive win in the OLBG.com David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle.Thousand Stars and Zaidpour are also in Mullins’ team.
The absence of Paul Nicholls’ superstar Big Buck’s, who had won the previous four renewals, means the champion trainer will have to find a new leading stayer among his team, which includes classy chaser Kauto Stone and Lexus Chase winner Tidal Bay, along with Aaim To Prosper, Celestial Halo, Prospect Wells and Wonderful Charm.
Long Walk Hurdle winner Reve De Sivola is there for Nick Williams and Mark Bradstock has entered the novice Coneygree.
Nicky Henderson has Oscar Whisky, Riverside Theatre and Oscara Dara among his seven entries while Rite Of Passage, Champion Court, Bog Warrior, Cape Tribulation, Peddlers Cross, Dynaste and Grands Crus are also entered.
Red fails in Dubai challenge
Red Dubawi failed to trouble the judge for the David Marnane team in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship at Meydan.
Fergal Lynch’s partner made a degree of headway along the rail, but did not pick up convincingly in the mile-and-a-quarter affair and was never a factor.
At the business end, the Mahmood Al Zarooni-trained Laajooj got up at the death to deny stablemate Naqshabban in an exciting finish.
Red Dubawi, who was making his debut for Marnane following his switch from Alain de Royer-Dupre’s stables in France, was last seen finishing seventh behind Cirrus Des Aigles in the Qatar Prix Dollar on Arc weekend.