THE talented Royal Kahala bagged the initial blacktype success that deserved to come her way with a last-gasp success in the Grade 3 Advent Surety Irish EBF Mares Hurdle.

In a race that has gone to Willie Mullins every year since 2016, the champion trainer supplied this year’s favourite in Shewearsitwell but she exited at the fourth flight having made a bad mistake at the previous obstacle.

Up front, last season’s Coral Cup heroine Heaven Help Us made a bold bid and was quicker at a number of flights than the Kevin Sexton-ridden Royal Kahala.

However, Royal Kahala dug in tenaciously from the turn-in and had closed to within a couple of lengths nearing the last flight before sustaining her effort to foil the pace-setter in the last stride or two.

“She is very good mare but she wants heavy ground and I don’t think you’ll see the best of her until she gets softer ground and maybe a longer trip might suit her better,” reported Fahey, who trains the daughter of Flemensfirth for the Winning Ways Starlet Syndicate.

“The Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham would be the plan, but we got away with the ground today. I wouldn’t run her on anything quicker than this. I think we’ll give her one more run before Cheltenham.”

Sexton doubles up

After riding his first Leopardstown winner on Royal Kahala, Kevin Sexton doubled his tally on Tony Martin’s Good Time Jonny (6/1) in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Novice Handicap Hurdle over two and a half miles.

The top-weight Mars Harper looked to have slipped clear of the field early in the straight but Sexton unleashed his mount with a terrific late charge to sweep by on the run-in and score by two and a half lengths in the manner of one who could be holding his own in a better class of handicap hurdle in the coming months.

The six-year-old is owned by Aidan Shiels, Donal Gavigan and Niall Reilly.

“He likes nice ground and he looks to be going the right way. We’ll get him home and see what’s available next. He’s owned by a great bunch of lads and it’s just a pity they couldn’t make it today,” declared Martin.

Journey begins

Perhaps the most interesting of all the maiden hurdles over the festive period was the Maiden Hurdle over two and a half miles where Journey With Me announced himself as a novice of some potential.

The Robcour-owned gelding created a huge impression when winning a Gowran bumper by 13 lengths last March – a race previously won by stablemate Bob Olinger – but he faced a stiff test for his return as Kilcruit was lying in wait. However, Journey With Me was more than equal to the task at hand.

He made most of the running for Rachael Blackmore and on the long run for home (with the last being bypassed due to low lying son) he rose to the challenge laid down by the odds-on Kilcruit.

The latter could do no more over the last furlong as a relentless Journey With Me kept on strongly to finish three and a half lengths clear of the dual bumper winner Minella Crooner, with Kilcruit losing second in the closing strides.

“He’s a lovely horse and he’s done it very well there. He stays well and we decided to come here after we felt Navan was maybe a shade too good for him just before Christmas.

“He’s only won a maiden hurdle and there’s a long way to go but this is usually a good race and he’s a nice horse,” stated de Bromhead.

15 winners

Philip Rothwell continued his industrious season by making it 15 winners for the campaign with Siberian Star (8/1) in the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Chase over two miles, five furlongs.

After being denied in agonising fashion at Navan eleven days previously the Scrub A Dub Dub Syndicate-owned winner made no mistake this time.

Paddy O’Hanlon’s mount charged into the lead well before the last en route to an 11-length triumph.

The Nice Guy rounded off another excellent Christmas Festival for Willie Mullins by taking the Plusvital Flat Race which gave the trainer a clean sweep of the meeting’s four bumpers.

The Malcolm Denmark-owned gelding was returned the evens favourite to build on his debut success at Fairyhouse in November and he did so in gritty fashion.

Patrick Mullins’ mount had to work somewhat to get the better of the front running Johnny Cigar but he duly took that one’s measure before keeping on well to hold the recent Thurles winner Dorans Weir by three-parts of a length.

“The intention was to go jumping after Fairyhouse but the maiden hurdles are so hot at the moment and I saw this race coming up so I stuck him in. He’s six going on seven though so he’ll go hurdling in the new year,” observed the trainer.