Willie Mullins declared it “job done” as Laurina teed herself up for a crack at the Unibet Champion Hurdle with a smooth display in the Smart Money’s On Coral Quevega Mares Hurdle at Punchestown.
The six-year-old is now unbeaten in six starts since her move from France, and she already has a Cheltenham Festival win under her belt.
With Apple’s Jade already confirmed as going for the Champion Hurdle, Laurina looks another live danger from Ireland to the Nicky Henderson-trained Buveur D’Air – who has won the last two renewals.
Ruby Walsh was happy to take a lead off stablemate Stormy Ireland until just before the turn for home.
With Laurina’s stamina not in any doubt, the two-and-a-half-mile trip was never going to stretch her, and Walsh made an early bid for home.
The 30-100 favourite was not hard pressed to beat her stable companion by six lengths, which in effect was her first race of the season – given on her reappearance at Sandown she only had to beat one rival.
Mullins said: “She took a good blow, and Ruby said she needed it badly. When he asked her to move up she moved up nicely, and did everything he asked her.
“She jumped a bit slow for my liking when she wasn’t on the bridle, but when he gave her the office to go she sharpened up her jumping. Ruby said she was idling in front. The tight inside track today wouldn’t suit her either.
“That’s job done, and hopefully we’ll get a clear run from now to Cheltenham. The Champion Hurdle is where we are aiming. That’s the owner’s plan and our plan. Things can change, and she is in other races.
“She got her flu jab last week – and we missed a week’s training, which is not ideal. I wanted the last week to sharpen her up and have her really hopping. We had to take a pull, and I’m happy knowing how we would normally shape her training coming up to a race like this.
“We’ll have to sharpen her up over the next few weeks. She was a very buzzy mare before, and she has matured, so maybe that’s why she looked very settled.
“The buzz and bustle of Cheltenham will really sharpen her up – and for a Champion Hurdle, she is going to have to be sharper.
“We knew we were going to have pace in the race today with Stormy Ireland, who is a nice yardstick too. We knew it wasn’t going to be a pushover. She beat nothing in Sandown, but looked sharper.
“She looks every inch a mare that can go chasing, and we’ll just see how she gets on in the meantime.”
Walsh said: “She had to be better today – Sandown was a canter round, and Stormy Ireland is a fair little filly in her own right.
“She jumped well in the main, bar one mistake when she was a little bit too relaxed- but once I got her racing at the third last, she was very good.”
He is confident Laurina has earned her place in next month’s big race.
“She needed that run. It worked for (2016 Champion Hurdle winner) Annie Power winning this, and Limini and Apple’s Jade have used it too.
“You wouldn’t want to race her over two miles on that (inner) track, because it’s very tight. But I’m not worried about going down in trip – I can’t think of too many doubtful stayers that won champion hurdles.
“I don’t know if she can win it – it will be a huge step up again, but she’s earned a crack at it. Apple’s Jade and Buveur D’Air are two very good horses.”