Blackstair books Japan ticket
Paul Townend timed it to perfection to get Blackstairmountain back to winning ways in the McCarthy Insurance Group Hurdle at Cork.
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A Grade One winner over timber as a novice, he also reached the same heights over fences last season but tends to struggle against the best when the mud is flying so Willie Mullins is now eyeing up a race in Japan.
Fosters Cross made sure it was a real test and Davy Condon was allowed an easy lead in front with his advantage still around 10 lengths turning into the long home straight.
Blackstairmountain (4/7 favourite) began to eat into his lead after the third-last and as the leader tired, Townend pounced and even Arnaud passed Fosters Cross in the end with the favourite winning by three-quarters of a length.
"We'll keep it to those type of races with him until the ground gets better. We're going to aim him at the Nakayama Grand Jump in Japan in April," said Mullins.
"The ground conditions over there will suit him and he's a Grade One horse. He's the only one I have for the race, although it will be quite costly to send him out there."
Townend said: "He was the horse to beat but was made to work. The ground was probably a bit dead for him."
Mullins was also on the mark in the McCarthy Insurance Group Maiden Hurdle over two miles with Midnight Oil (evens favourite).
With Luca Cumani on the Flat, he had been outclassed in his previous two races but coasted home under Davy Russell.
"We decided to ride him more positively today and he enjoyed it better. He should improve more when the ground is drier," said Mullins.
"If he does improve on better ground, which I think he will, he'll step back up to Graded company. He's a grand, big jumping type of horse and the ground is key to him."
Mullins made it a treble when Terminal (1/2 favourite) eventually wore down A Fine Young Man in the McCarthy Insurance Group Beginners' Chase.
An almighty touch was landed by Sabrina Harty's Dalasiri in the McCarthy Insurance Group Maiden Hurdle who was backed from a morning price of 33/1 into just 9/2 on-course.
Sent to the front four from home by Andrew Lynch, the Aga Khan-bred grey showed far more than on his previous start at Christmas and sprinted clear to win hard held from Spot The Pro by 11 lengths.
"We felt at home that he had a good turn of foot and we dropped him in at Leopardstown. He was just staying on when he made two mistakes," said Harty.
"But his jumping is as slick as you get. I ride him myself and schooled him as well. We got him from John Oxx's as a two-year-old in the Horses In Training Sale. We were going to go the bumper route but he schooled like a handicapper recently and we knew he'd come on a ton for the run at Leopardstown.
"He's beautifully made with a great head and no hang up's, and we've always thought a lot of him. Today was the plan but he should make a nice dual purpose horse. If he's sold I'd like to still train him."
Golantilla (7/4 favourite) entered the picture for the Cheltenham Bumper after an impressive win for Sean O'Brien who bred, owns and trains the five-year-old. Stan James gave him a 16/1 quote for March.