Willie Mullins saddled four winners at Naas on Sunday and all four are bound for the Cheltenham Festival.
Carefully Selected survived a scare to win the Naas Racecourse Business Club Novice Chase.
The Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old was already the ante-post favourite for the National Hunt Chase after impressing on his first two starts over fences this season, most recently dominating his rivals in a Grade 3 contest over two and a half miles at Punchestown.
However, updated race conditions announced last summer stated that to qualify for the National Hunt Chase, a horse must have finished in the first four in a chase staged over an extended two miles and seven and a half furlongs or further – which Carefully Selected previously had not.
With the clock ticking, Mullins was left with little option but to turn his charge out a fortnight after his Punchestown triumph in this Grade Three contest – and the champion trainer will have breathed a sigh of relief after what was a far from straightforward victory.
The 4/6 favourite set out to make all the running under Paul Townend, but his jumping was not always convincing. After being passed by Spyglass Hill, Carefully Selected regained the lead before a shuddering error three fences from home shuffled him back again.
The market leader rallied, though, and looked to be getting the better of Spyglass Hill when the latter crashed out at the next obstacle.
Carefully Selected then still had to be kept up to his work on the run-in to score by four lengths from Forza Milan.
Mullins said: “He makes hard work of it. That’s twice he’s been taken out of a race with what appeared race-ending mistakes, but has come back. He stays all day, and his jumping is generally safe. That will be good experience for him.
“He doesn’t look the fastest, but I think he has more speed than he looks – at least over that sort of trip. He’s qualified now for the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, and it looks like that’s where he’ll go. I think better ground won’t inconvenience him over a trip.”
Stormy Ireland completed a hat-trick for the season with a decisive success in the Limestone Lad Hurdle.
The Willie Mullins-trained mare rarely runs a bad race, with her five previous career victories supplemented by seven runner-up finishes.
Just last season, the six-year-old chased home a pair of high-class stablemates in Laurina and Benie Des Dieux, while she was also second to subsequent Champion Hurdle hero Espoir D’Allen and found only Roksana too strong in the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Having won against her own sex at Punchestown and Leopardstown earlier in the campaign, Stormy Ireland was the 3/10 favourite to beat the boys in this two-mile Grade 3 – and ultimately got the job done in fine style.
After taking a lead from Mengli Khan for much of the race, Stormy Ireland went to the front in the straight under Paul Townend and passed the post six lengths to the good, with her stable companion Franco De Port coming through to beat the long-time leader for second.
Mullins said: “I was particularly pleased she was able to win at that sort of trip, and she’s improving all the time. She doesn’t have to make her own running now, which is good to see.
“She was rated 148 coming into this race, so she is good enough to be entered and run in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham after that run. Franco De Port left his bad run at Christmas behind, and I probably got the tactics wrong then. We made the running at Limerick, and I don’t think it suited.”
GETAWAY SO GOOD
The Big Getaway (2/5 favourite) completed the short-price treble for Mullins and Townend in the 2m 3f maiden hurdle. Carrying the Al Boum Photo colours of Joe Donnelly, the giant gelding made all to win easily and is heading for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham.
A hunter chase rounded off the card and Mullins also won this heat with Billaway, ridden by the trainer's son Patrick. At the end of a slowly-run race, the 9/2 shot raced clear to win by eight lengths and looks another bound for Cheltenham in March.
Nice horse - The Big Getaway is pretty promising and wins as he likes to open his hurdles account for @PTownend and Willie Mullins at @NaasRacecourse— Racing TV (@RacingTV) January 26, 2020
Results ? https://t.co/glajGV55GR pic.twitter.com/VUHRcyMnqS