Champion Bumper winner Relegate was made to work hard in getting off the mark over timber at the second time of asking in the Clinton Higgins Chartered Accountants Mares Maiden Hurdle at Naas.
Willie Mullins’ mare subsequently disappointed at Punchestown after her Cheltenham heroics and was hampered when narrowly beaten on her hurdling debut last month.
Three mares came clear of the big field on this occasion, with Caravation and Barrington Court keeping Relegate and Ruby Walsh company in the straight.
Relegate (4-5 favourite) kicked the final two hurdles out of the ground, but her guts and class enabled her to battle back bravely for a narrow victory.
The winning margin was half a length from Caravation second, with Barrington Court two and a half lengths away in third.
“That was good and I thought Ruby was very good on her,” said Mullins.
“She didn’t help him much over the last two. She was probably just going a bit too fast and I’d imagine from now on we’ll go way out in trip with her.
“Unless there was something at two and a quarter (miles), but I’d be looking at two and a half. To win a two-mile hurdle was good. I think she’ll jump a lot better when she goes out in trip.
“I’d be looking for mares’ races or novice races, I doubt she’d come back here for the Grade One. I’ll just step her up the ladder quietly.”
RaceBets quoted the winner at 8-1 for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle and 22-1 for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
Mullins added: “The (mares’) race at Cheltenham is two-mile-one-furlong. I’d imagine I’ll be trying to go out in trip with her all the time.”
Mullins had to settle for second place behind Rachael Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead as A Plus Tard beat Duc Des Genievres in the Kildare Now Beginners Chase.
As a four-year-old, the French import, running in the famous Cheveley Park Stud colours which are becoming a common sight this season, was getting weight off the others and he showed the benefit of his Irish debut second at Gowran.
Having travelled smoothly into the straight, the 4-1 shot found plenty for pressure to win by three and a quarter lengths.
“He did it really nicely. He jumped brilliant, Rachael said his jumping was excellent and he looked really good throughout and he seemed to stay on really well up the hill,” said De Bromhead.
“He drifts a little bit right, that’s the second time he’s done that, but it seems to just be a tendency for him.
“We’re delighted to get our first winner for Cheveley Park and fair play to Alex Elliott for sourcing the horse.”
He added: “It was a pretty hot beginners’ chase. There is a nice race in Punchestown, a two-and-a-half-mile Grade Two, in mid-January and that would look an obvious choice.
“We’ll get a bit more experience and see from there.”
De Bromhead and Blackmore also bettered Mullins in the opener, where Embrun Mitja made a winning debut for the yard in the 2019 Naas Membership Maiden Hurdle.
Mullins’ Face The Facts, a Listed winner for John Gosden on the Flat, was sent off the odds-on favourite and the two fought out the finish.
With Blackmore riding the eventual winner and Paul Townend on the favourite it was the two leading jockeys of the season fighting out the finish, and on this occasion it was Blackmore on the 14-1 shot who came out on top by half a length.
The winner had scored on his only start on the level in France.
“We only got him during the summer. I couldn’t be happier, it’s a lovely start,” said De Bromhead.
“His jumping was OK, he probably can improve on that. Rachael gave him a super ride and I love the way he battled it out after the last.
“He’s just not clever when he’s in tight, but we can work on that. He’s a lovely horse and obviously has a good engine.
“He’s a big, tall horse and a real chaser in the making. He has a lovely way of going.”