THE centre piece of the card at Punchestown last Sunday was the Grand National Trial Handicap Chase which saw Coko Beach (140) lead home a one-two-three for Gigginstown.
Ridden with more patience than at Gowran Park in the Thyestes Chase, the eight-year-old stayed on best of the field, off a strong gallop, to win for the first time in two years.
A comparison with the two-mile chase won by Indiana Jones (134) through the early sections of the final circuit illustrates how strong the pace was as Stones And Roses reached the fourth last fence 1.3secs in advance of the Robcour-owned gelding, who was tasting success over fences for the first time.
Admittedly, the extra distance covered took its toll on the long-distance chasers as Coko Beach covered the ground from the obstacle in 66.3secs, compared to the 62.5secs taken by Indiana Jones.
However, the visual impression was the eight-year-old grey was looking for some company and picked up again near to the line when joined by the loose Angels Dawn, who was closing steadily when falling at the second last fence.
The early exploits of Kilbree Warrior ensured the Listed Mares Hurdle was a test of stamina rather than speed, which played to the strengths of the supposed Willie Mullins second-string Hauturiere (141), who looks sure to stay further.
Jockey Danny Mullins was forced to sit tight at the third and second last hurdles as mistakes set his mount on the back foot.
However, once straightened for home, the six-year-old always looked likely to run down the smoother travelling Shecouldbeanything (141) on her way to a closing sectional of 59.6secs.
It paid to race prominently in the maiden hurdle as Senior Chief (110+) held off the rallying Hollow Sound (110) from the last to finish his race off in 58.1secs.
Verdant Place (115+) continued his good form at Punchestown in the three-mile handicap, wining with something in hand judged on the way he was able to pick up again following a final flight blunder which looked to have opened the door to his pursuers.
The Walk In The Park gelding stopped the clock for his sectional at an impressive 58.3secs given the extra distance covered.
Ballyburn (120+) added his name to the Willie Mullins squad list for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, somehow raising a strong finish to win going away after racing with more enthusiasm than was comfortable for jockey Patrick Mullins.
The sectional data shows the Ronnie Bartlett-owned five-year-old to have been the equal of the winning mare early, before finishing off stronger with the sum of the two sectionals combining to produce the fastest circuit of the day when adjusted for the hurdles.
The other significant race in Ireland last week took place at Clonmel on Thursday, when Hiddenvalley Lake (128+) narrowly failed to hold the late challenge of stablemate Monty’s Star (128+) in the Grade 3 Surehaul Mercedez-Benz Novice Hurdle.
Although the race took time to develop, the final circuit was the quickest of the day as the Barry Maloney-owned gelding covered the last lap 0.8secs quicker than Feddans (118), who was not winning out of turn in the opening maiden hurdle. The pair are likely to renewal rivalry in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival.
Cheltenham also beckons for I Like To Move It (164) who produced a career best time figure in the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton.
Knappers Hill (145) attempted to repeat the tactics which saw him successful over course and distance earlier in the season, creating a furious gallop which suited Nigel Twiston-Davies’ gelding perfectly.
Press Your Luck (116), who is now two from two at Wincanton, ran closest in terms of overall time when adjusted for distance, although still trailed the Twiston-Davies runner by 9.0secs on the final circuit.
The six-year-old will head to the Champion Hurdle unbeaten over hurdles on the Old course, a repeat of this performance will see him contesting third at worst in what looks likely to be a small field.
Makin’yourmindup (130+), Haydock, Saturday, February 18th – combined the quickest time and closing sectional of the three-mile hurdles on the card.
As he is not entered at Cheltenham, Aintree could well be his target.
Super Six (139+), Haydock, Saturday, February 18th – opened his account over fences in convincing style, looks much happier going left-handed.
Tiger Crusade (100+), Lingfield, Saturday, February 18th – has improved on the clock for stepping up to seven furlongs and being ridden more prominently.