From Friday at Thurles to Sunday at Punchestown, there were plenty of pointers to emerge from this weekend’s racing, writes Tom Harle.
Here are five things we learned from the action across Ireland.
Redemption for Andy Dufresne
Gordon Elliott’s glory gelding Andy Dufresne bolstered confidence Cullentra will rule the Novice Hurdles at Cheltenham.
It wasn’t pretty, though, as Mark Walsh had to give it plenty down the stretch for the six-year-old to snatch the spoils in Sunday’s Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.
This was all against the background of doubts planted by a first-ever defeat at Navan in December at the hands of Latest Exhibition and this display was a rebuttal of those, if not an emphatic one.
“It’s a relief and good to get him back winning,” said Elliott, who seems likely to put him in the Supreme, but added: “I still don't think two and half is a problem to him - he stays well.”
Can Carefully Selected be the horse to restore Irish dominance of the Novice Chases at Cheltenham?
On the evidence of Sunday’s Killiney Novice Chase, he’ll be a live chance with Willie Mullins’ eight-year-old continuing to transition seamlessly to the jumps circuit.
A 24-length win saw him cut for 4-1 for the National Hunt Chase and 12-1 for the RSA Chase, which were both taken from Irish hands last year.
“He didn't get too hard a race there. I hadn't planned running at the Dublin Racing Festival - but maybe something just after that, he could go for before Cheltenham,” said Mullins.
"The way he went around there, the National Hunt Chase would be right up his street, but we have to keep the RSA open as well.”
Conor’s a canny one
It was a great day for connections of Charlie Stout who catapulted jockey Conor McNamara further into the spotlight as an emerging prospect.
Son of trainer Eric and a brother of jockey Emmet, the youngster made his move two from home to nab the Dan & Joan Moore Memorial Handicap Chase at Fairyhouse for Shane Nolan.
This was a couple of hours after taking Wolf Prince to victory for Gavin Cromwell, bringing in a 19-1 double and taking his season tally of wins to 21.
“It’s great and definitely my best ever day. I did have a double before at Clonmel, but this is even better,” said McNamara.
Dundalk bow for Donnacha
There was much fanfare as two-time Champion Jockey Donnacha O’Brien opened his training career under the lights at Dundalk on Friday night.
His first two rides - Mythologic and Flower Garland – were market leaders at the gate but there was to be no maiden winner for the 21-year-old.
O’Brien called them ‘little chances’ in the build-up and Mythologic made well over the mile but finished third.
And Flower Garland brought back fifth for Ballydoyle making it a low-key opening night for the next chapter of O’Brien’s young career.
Ard does enough
A place on Gordon Elliott’s team for Cheltenham is one of the hottest tickets in jumps racing, with Irish ambitions at Prestbury Park at an all-time high.
Ard Abhainn did just that at Thurles on Friday with a fine display in the feature under Davy Russell, meaning she’s now in line for a tilt at the Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle.
The six-year-old shook off Mullins-trained Rebel Og down the home straight and Elliott clearly feels he’s got a prospect on his hands
“I thought the trip was a bit short for her and she missed the third last, but Davy was happy with her,” said Elliott.