The Willie Mullins-trained Quel Esprit had little more than an exercise canter to land the Grade Three Conditions Chase at Thurles in the hands of Paul Townend.
A decent novice hurdler, the French-bred horse endured a torrid time in his first season over fences, failing to complete the course in his final three outings. He reappeared at Naas in November and had a confidence boosting seven lengths victory over Foildubh.
Saturday’s contest was tailor-made for him and as a consequence he went to post an unbackable favourite. In a small field Townend was able to give him plenty of light at his fences before sending him on five out. From there he drew steadily clear to win unchallenged by 15 lengths from Whodoyouthink.
The race told us little that we did not know already. The eight-year-old is in good form and his jumping was safe rather than spectacular, but bigger tests lie ahead if he is to fulfil the esteem in which he is held by connections.
The Kinloch Brae Chas at the venue is under consideration as is the Hennessy at Leopardstown. Quel Esprit will have to put in a bold showing, especially in the latter event, if he is to be considered as a genuine Gold Cup candidate.
Mullins went on to record a double when Mozoltov had a equally impressive success in the bumper. Word from the yard was that the six-year-old was sparkling on the gallops and he was the only one that punters wanted to know about. The trainer’s son Patrick allowed him to stride on right from the start and those who invested at the cramped odds never had a moment’s worry as he sauntered home 13 lengths ahead of Scrapper Jack.
It was not so much what he did but the way he did it that impressed onlookers. A winners’ bumper is next on the list and it will take something special to lower his colours.
Jockey Andrew Lynch is in flying form just now and recorded a three-timer as he kept up the momentum. The hitherto disappointing Berties Dream set the ball rolling with a runaway success in the three mile beginners chase.
Without a victory since springing a surprise in the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham almost two years ago the nine-year-old, now under the care of Henry de Bromhead, led from start to finish and had 24 lengths to spare over the Margaret Mullins runner and joint favourite Marlay Park.
In his post race remarks de Bromhead revealed that the Ten Up Chase at Navan and the National Trial at Punchestown will be closely looked at as to ascertain what sort of mark he would get for the Irish Grand National. The RSA Chase at Cheltenham is another option. Since he showed that he handles the course he could well be a lively outsider.
De Bromhead also supplied Lynch with the middle leg of his three-timer when saddling Jack Bene to capture the two mile and six maiden hurdle after a good scrap with the Willie Mullins representative Quaquo De Flotte. Front running tactics were again adopted by Lynch, but he was hard at work entering the straight as Paul Townend arrived going well aboard Quaquo De Flotte.
The pair had the race to themselves from there, with Jack Bene just about doing enough to claim the spoils by half a length in spite of coming off a straight line near the finish.
Fiery Oscar put his best foot forward in the two mile 82-95 handicap hurdle to complete the hat-trick for Lynch. Never out of the leading group, the seven-year-old had to be well stoked up before gaining a two and a half length success.
Shane Broderick’s riding career was prematurely ended when he suffered horrendous injuries in a fall at Fairyhouse some years ago. Although confined to a wheelchair the trainer went close to landing the three mile 72-102 handicap chase with the favourite Cochise.
Owned by JP McManus, Cochise always runs well at Thurles but on this occasion his jumping was slow at times. In the end this made all the difference as he was forced to play second fiddle to Torremulle.
Racing in mid division Cochise gave his rider Denis Hogan a torrid time. He jumped out to his left at several fences which had obvious effects but, to his credit, he ran on gamely in the straight to be within a length and a quarter of Torremulle at the finish.
Although now an 11-year-old, Cochise is still capable of raising a flag with a better round of jumping.