Seabass on course for Aintree
Reaction from Fairyhouse where Seabass caught the eye over hurdles on his seasonal reappearance.
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Last year's Grand National third Seabass confirmed himself a major contender for this season's renewal of the Aintree spectacular with a tremendous comeback run over hurdles at Fairyhouse.
The Ted Walsh-trained 10-year-old was a heavily supported joint-favourite for the world's most famous steeplechase last April and gave the trainer's daughter Katie Walsh a fantastic spin to be beaten just five lengths.
Making his first appearance since in a two-mile hurdle race, Seabass was hardly going to be seen to best effect but ran on strongly to fill the runner-up spot behind the impressive Rock Critic.
The Willie Mullins-trained Make Your Mark was the 4/6 market leader for the Racegoer's 25 euros Package Hurdle on the strength of some strong novice form last term, but 9/4 shot Rock Critic was travelling much the better of the pair as they rounded the home turn as one.
Once given his head by Robbie McNamara, the Dermot Weld-trained Rock Critic scooted clear to make it two from two over obstacles by three and three-quarter lengths.
Seabass was predictably outpaced as the front pair quickened swung into the straight, but finished well under Ruby Walsh to grab the runner-up spot from a rather disappointing Make Your Mark.
Walsh senior was understandably delighted with the performance and with Colbert Station also Aintree-bound, the trainer now has two major contenders as he aims to win the race for a second time following the triumph of Papillon in 2000.
Walsh said: "I'm happy with him. He'll run somewhere in three weeks' time. He has loads of options.
"There is the Bobbyjo Chase, the race he won in Naas last year and also the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton.
"He's well and he's a 154-rated horse over fences now.
"The plan is to give him another run and then go straight to Aintree. He has fragile old legs and you wouldn't want to be abusing him."
Sky Bet make Seabass a 16/1 chance for the John Smith's Grand National at Aintree on April 6.
Rock Critic is 16/1 with the same firm for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle but Weld warned he was not a certain starter at Cheltenham.
He said: "He did what I thought he would do. He knows his job and he jumps well.
"He would much prefer better ground. We've no definite plan - we'll speak to the owners.
"He's entered in Cheltenham but at the moment I see him as a Punchestown/Fairyhouse horse.
"We didn't plan to get there so soon but his jumping took him there - he jumped like a stag."
The Paul Nolan-trained Defy Logic routed the opposition in the Great Value Corporate Hospitality At Fairyhouse Maiden Hurdle.
Sent off the 4-6 favourite having won a bumper at the track back in November, the six-year-old son of Flemensfirth made every yard of the running under Mark Walsh and had main market rival Mad Brian well beaten when he parted company with his rider after the final flight.
In the end, the JP McManus-owned Defy Logic came home with 34 lengths in hand and Stan James now make him 20-1 from 25-1 for the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
He is 25-1 from 33-1 for the longer Albert Bartlett.
Nolan said: "I'm delighted that he got that done. We'll talk to Frank (Berry, McManus' racing manager) and see where he goes.
"He does it easy. We thought he'd have to run to a fairly high mark to win today.
"Mad Brian has solid form so I thought he'd have to run to a mark in the 130s.
"He's a little bit to learn jumping and I just hope he stays right.
"Someone asked me would he stay at it and I told them I didn't know as I'd never seen him off the bridle.
"He looks a bit awkward with his head carriage but the way he gallops, he annihilates them."
Noel Brett's Dactik (14-1) recorded his third course win in the Tote Sports Lounge Novice Handicap Hurdle, overcoming a mistake at the final obstacle in the hands of Paul Carberry to take the prize by seven and a half lengths.
Brett said: "He did it well. He was a bit lucky at the last but he got him over and he kept going."