Easy Game got back on the winning trail with a determined display in the Devenish Chase at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday.
The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old had been a little disappointing since landing the PWC Champion Chase at Gowran Park in October – most recently unseating his rider at Thurles in January.
With likely favourite Fakir D’oudairies a significant non-runner, Easy Game was the 11/8 market leader for his latest Grade Two test, with Brian Hayes taking over in the saddle from the sidelined Paul Townend.
Having jumped with zest and travelled powerfully on the heels of the leaders, the French-bred gelding moved to the lead early in the home straight, with Castlegrace Paddy emerging as his biggest threat.
There was not much to choose between the pair approaching the final obstacle, but it was Easy Game who jumped it the better and that may well have proved crucial, with just three-quarters of a length separating the pair at the line.
Mullins said: “He really appreciated the nicer ground today. Brian said the last day in Thurles he was getting stuck in the ground, but today he was jumping so well and he was really happy with him.
“Brian is a great chase jockey and this was a nice spare for him. He gives horses great confidence. The horse looked beaten going to the last, but Brian pulled him together for one jump and it paid off for him.
“I’d imagine he’ll go to Punchestown.”
Cheltenham Festival hero Jeff Kidder followed up in the Rathbarry And Glenview Studs Juvenile Hurdle.
A winner over the course and distance earlier in the campaign, Noel Meade’s charge was last seen springing an 80/1 surprise in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle in the Cotswolds last month.
Despite that big-race triumph, Jeff Kidder was second-best in the market for this Grade 2 contest at 5/1, with the previously unbeaten Teahupoo all the rage as the 4/7 market leader.
It turned into a straight shootout between the two from early in the home straight – and while Teahupoo loomed up looking a big threat, Jeff Kidder already looked to be getting the better of the argument when the odds-on shot produced an untidy leap at the final flight.
In the end Sean Flanagan’s mount prove his Cheltenham success was no fluke with a decisive three-length verdict.
“He’s improving all the time,” said Meade.
“We gave him a little break after he ran in the Grade 2 in Leopardstown at Christmas and I was actually worried if I’d left him off too long, but obviously it was perfect. We just let him in and out and let him enjoy himself.
“If he ever learns how to jump the whole lot of them he’ll be grand – he only jumped half of them.
“I’d say he was very weak last year and is starting to get a bit stronger.”
On future plans, he added: “If he never does any more he’s done a lot, but hopefully he will do more.
“I can’t see any reason why he won’t run in Punchestown now in the Grade 1 and the plan was to run on the flat during the summer. Colin (Keane) said to me last year ‘when you get him over two miles, he’ll win a Cesarewitch for you’.
“Off 68 he should be able to win a flat race somewhere, you’d imagine.”