WHILE he is very much hoping that Winged Leader and Vaucelet can win the hunters’ chases at the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals, David Christie decided to avoid a clash at Thurles on Sunday between his top horses and Billaway who agonisingly narrowly beat the pair last season.

However, the Co Fermanagh handler wasn’t prepared to leave the stage to Willie Mullins’s charge and took him on – and beat him – with one of the up-and-coming stars at his Derrylin yard, Ray Nicholas and Sam Campbell’s Ferns Lock.

Winged Leader looked good when beating Billaway by 12 lengths in the same race last year but Ferns Lock looked even better when increasing that margin to 20 lengths on Sunday.

As the British-bred Telescope gelding is just a six-year-old, Christie hopes he can resist any urgings to send the bay across the water this term, to any of the classic hunters’ chase, and instead keep him to the home circuit. “There are plenty of nice races to be won with him here,” said the trainer.

Christie’s charge Marronstown finished third in the opening maiden hurdle at Down Royal on Tuesday but local trainers failed to strike at this Molson Coors meeting.

Dundalk timber merchant Michael Rice often sends horses up the road to Down Royal and he saddled his own home-bred Wee Small Hours to win the two and a half-mile handicap chase under Dillon Maxwell. The 14-year-old bay gelding, who was recording his third racecourse success, is by the one-time Scarvagh Stud-based Millkom.

Purely for the satisfaction of showing people how smart you are, we are inviting readers to submit a caption for the above photograph depicting Billaway’s trainer Willie Mullins and Ferns Luck’s joint-owner, Belfast bookmaker Ray Nicholas.

Please email to info@theirishfield.ie by noon on Wednesday, February 1st.