Willie Mullins added to his strong squad for Cheltenham when Arvika Legionnaire and Wicklow Brave won well at Punchestown on Sunday.
The Beat Hollow gelding Wicklow Brave drew first blood when he turned over the favourite Lieutenant Colonel in the Listed Novice Hurdle over a two mile trip.
A three-time bumper winner, the five-year-old opened his hurdling account in impressive fashion at Cork and is clearly heading in the right direction.
Jockey Ruby Walsh had difficulty in restraining him in the early stages and as a consequence his hurdling was sketchy.
Heading to the home turn Lieutenant Colonel had taken over, but once Walsh produced Wicklow Brave going to the final flight they drew clear to win by four and a quarter lengths from the favourite, with the well-supported Philip Fenton trained Real Steel a further four and a half lengths back in third place.
With more than 20 entries for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham Mullins is going to have a difficult job in sorting out his challengers, but Wicklow Brave showed that he is well entitled to take his place.
A €43,000 purchase at the 2012 Derby Sales, the winner is by the Ballylinch Stud-based stallion Beat Hollow, who is beginning to make a name for himself as a jumping sire and was responsible for last year’s Supreme Novices’ winner Cinders And Ashes.
Although Arvika Legionnaire is considered to be a much better horse going right-handed he booked his place in the Two Mile Champion Chase when he slaughtered the opposition in the Grade Two Tied Cottage Chase.
Starting at cramped odds, the nine-year-old travelled smoothly as Davy Russell elected to make the running aboard Special Tiara. The latter cried enough three out, where Arvika Legionnaire took over before going on to land the spoils by 14 lengths from Toner D’oudairies.
In spite of the fact that he was pulled up behind Simonsig in the Arkle Trophy at the festival last season, connections of Arvika Legionnaire are confident that he is capable of giving a good account of himself against the likes of Sprinter Sacre especially if the ground comes up testing.
Bosman Rule started favourite to give Mullins a three-timer in the bumper but for the third time in as many outings second place was as good as he could muster behind Hairy O’Malley.
Trained by Christie Roche, Hairy O’Malley was given a stylish ride by his so Padraig Roche to take up the running before the straight and pull out plenty to see off the late surge of Bosman Rule by two and a half lengths.
While Jessica Harrington will be represented by Jezki in the Champion Hurdle she will be looking forward to saddling his half brother Jetson in the final of the Pertemps Hurdle at the Cotswolds meeting after the son of Oscar ran out a game winner of the Pertemps handicap hurdle qualifier over three mile.
Although he was returned at 14/1 Jetson was far from a forlorn hope. His recent promising outing at Gowran Park at Grade Two level showed that he was coming back to form after taking a drop in the handicap. Never too far off the pace under 5lb claimer Paddy Kennedy, the nine-year-old timed his effort to perfection at the last hurdle, battling to a one length win over joint favourite Thunder And Roses.
This victory will come as a welcome boost to Ms Harrington, whose string have been going through a quiet time of late.
Conor O’Dwyer is viewing the Irish Grand National as a target for Folsom Blue after the Old Vic gelding landed the three mile and four Grand National Trial in the hands of Bryan Cooper.
Making his handicap debut Folsom Blue travelled sweetly and pulled away from long-time leader Sole Witness at the last fence to take the money by three and a half lengths.
A decent enough novice hurdle before spending a year on the sidelines, Folsom Blue is an out and out stayer according to O’Dwyer - the deeper the ground the better he likes it. If it turns up that way at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday he will have plenty of followers.
Graignamanagh-born Enda Bolger has taken over where his late father-in-law Pat Hogan left off in producing top class hunter chasers, Hogan was honoured when the P.P. Hogan memorial cross country chase over the famous banks was named after him. Fittingly enough, Bolger supplied the winner in Love Story.
Partnered by Nina Carberry Love Story avoided the mayhem at the big double to be in a challenging position early in the straight.Moving steadily, Love Story went clear to win comfortably by two and a half lengths from her brother Paul on Big Shu.