Willie Mullins, who has one of the finest collections of national hunt talent assembled, flexed his muscles as the jumping season kicked into gear.
Mullins was the main man at Navan, helping himself to a hat-trick of winners at the Kildare venue on Sunday.
McKinley got the show on the road with a comfortable success in the Grade Three Novice Hurdle over a two mile trip.
A decent horse on the level, the son of Kheleyf was easy enough to back as punters sided with Princely Con, who is trained by Willie’s brother Tom. This one was most disappointing, however, and found little when the race began in earnest.
In contrast McKinley was always in the firing line before taking over at the second last flight. Rider Bryan Cooper only had to keep him up to his work to beat Fort Smith by two and three-quarter lengths, with Princely Con a further eight lengths back in third position.
Time alone will tell as to how good a race it was. The early pace looked sedate, which played into the winner’s hands, but bigger tests lie ahead if McKinley is to be numbered among the elite of his generation.
Zaidpour, a great servant to the Mullins stable over the years, grabbed another graded victory when he captured the two and a half mile Grade Three Lismullen Hurdle in the hands of Ruby Walsh.
In a race where only four went to post Walsh threw down the gauntlet to the rest of the field right from the drop of the flag, sending his mount into the lead. The combination never saw another rival as they passed the post two and a half lengths clear of Noble Mission, with Darwins Fox just a neck further back in third place.
Darwins Fox, who was the main market rival to Zaidpour having enjoyed a fine season, probably found the trip just beyond him especially on the slightly easier ground on this stiff track.
There is no doubt that Zaidpour got the run of the race,as no challenger took him on, but he showed that he is as good as ever. He will now be aimed at the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle.
The Mouse Morris representative Bailey Green was all the rage for the two mile Grade Two Fortria Chase in spite of the fact that he failed to justify similar support at Gowran Park on his most recent appearance.
Once again the eight-year-old failed to fire and finished some way adrift of the principals, who were headed by the Mullins runner Twinlight.
After jumping off in front Twinlight was soon restrained by Ruby Walsh, but raced in close proximity to the leaders. It was clear from before the straight that there was only going to be one result and this assessment proved correct. Twinlight assumed control at the penultimate fence, racing clear to beat Days Hotel by an ever-extending seven and a half lengths.
This was a smart display by the winner. The conditions of the race were slightly against him, which meant that he had to concede weight to all bar the runner-up. He did the job with the minimum of fuss and is now bound for the Hilly Way Chase at Cork, a race he won last year.
Mullins had an expensive failure in the opening juvenile hurdle when Uradel failed to live up the pre-race hype about him. He looked decidedly ordinary as he finished a long way off the impressive winner Kabjoy, who continued the fine run of the Jessica Harrington team.
Given time to settle Kabjoy, who has a flat victory to her credit, improved to lead at the penultimate hurdle and extend her advantage all the way to the line where she had five and a half lengths to spare over Prussian Eagle.
Although some of her hurdling was not perfect, the winner shaped well. Connections are confident that she will improve from this initial hurdling outing.
On paper the two mile beginners chase looked a cracking contest, as punters found it hard to choose between Gilgamboa and Blood Cotil. Many eventually settled on the former and made the right call as the Westerner gelding did the business under a stylish ride from Mark Walsh.
A smart horse over hurdles, Gilgamboa always had the stamp of a chase about him. On this evidence he can go a long way to fulfilling that impression.
Settled just off the pace, the six-year-old travelled and jumped well. Once Walsh popped the question going to the second last the horse picked up impressively and comfortably held the challenge of Blood Cotil by a length and a half.
Former top rider Frank Berry, now the racing manager to the winning owner JP McManus, said he was delighted with the performance as Gilgamboa was fast and accurate at his fences, Berry will now consult with McManus about the next move, but this is a horse to keep on the right side of this season.