Articulum dominated from the front in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Novice Chase at Naas.
Having opened his account over fences at Fairyhouse three weeks ago, the Gordon Elliott-trained Campeador was long odds-on to follow up when the betting opened, but strong support for Terence O’Brien’s Articulum saw him challenging for favouritism come the off.
In the end Articulum was an even-money shot behind 9-10 market leader Campeador – and with the only other runner Muroor completely out of his depth, it was effectively a straight shoot-out between the top two from an early stage.
Articulum fenced beautifully in front in the hands of David Mullins, with Campeador and Mark Walsh always in his slipstream.
There was little to choose between the pair as they jumped the second fence from home, but O’Brien’s charge soon asserted and passed the post seven and a half lengths to the good.
O’Brien said: “He always showed us a lot – but he’s had his wind problems, and we’ve done a bit of touching up and doctoring over the last year or two.
“Hopefully we’ll go to Leopardstown and take on Grade One company at the Dublin Racing Festival. David was very happy with him, and thought there was plenty of horse left.
“I’ll probably leave him at two miles (in the Irish Arkle), and we can always go up again.
“I think there is more improvement in him, and hopefully he’ll be sound in the morning.”
Noel Meade has similarly high hopes for Valdieu following his impressive display in the opening I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Maiden Hurdle.
After five consecutive placed efforts in bumpers, the six-year-old finally came good in that sphere at Down Royal over the Christmas period and was a 100-30 chance for his hurdling bow.
Ridden by Sean Flanagan, Valdieu eased six and a half lengths clear of fellow Gigginstown House Stud-owned runner Final List.
Odds-on favourite Barrington Court finished tailed off, but was found to be lame post-race.
Meade said: “I couldn’t believe this horse was getting beaten in bumpers – we thought he was the best bumper horse we had last year.
“The hurdles helped him as he attacked them. He’s a smart horse.
“There is every possibility he could go to Leopardstown (for the Dublin Racing Festival).”
There was a thrilling climax to the Eastcoast Seafood & Gouldings Hardware Handicap Chase, with Joseph O’Brien’s 2-1 favourite Punches Cross lunging late under Mark Walsh to score by a head and a short-head from Quamino and Arvico Bleu respectively.
“Mark gave him a great ride,” said O’Brien.
“He didn’t jump as well today as he did here the last time. He missed the first couple and the last – but it was a good competitive race, and there wasn’t much in it.
“We’ll find something similar for him.”
Meri Devie made a winning debut for Paul Nolan in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Beginners Chase.
Formerly a high-class performer over hurdles for Willie Mullins, the six-year-old changed hands for 55,000 euros at Tattersalls in December and was a 5-2 chance for her first start over the larger obstacles.
Meri Devie jumped well in the main and looked in command when her nearest rival High School Days fell at the final fence.
That exit left Nolan’s mare clear to score by 13 lengths from Grey Waters.
James Nolan, assistant to his brother, said: “We have only had her about six weeks, and she wasn’t bought to do this – she was bought as a broodmare.
“John (Brennan, owner) said we should see how he she jumps (fences) while she was waiting to go to a stallion, and if we felt she could win a chase then we should let her do that. She schooled well, and Bryan (Cooper, jockey) was happy with her, so that’s why she’s here.
“I don’t know if she will stay racing now if she can get some more black type. We’ll see what John wants to do.”
Trainer Luke Comer and jockey Ricky Doyle combined to land the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Hurdle with 16-1 shot Mystique Heights.
Joseph O’Brien’s Top Moon was all the rage for the concluding bumper – but try as he might, he was unable to get by Harry Kelly’s 20-1 shot Aliym, who held on by a short-head under Paul Cawley.