Any Second Now confirmed his status as a leading contender for the Randox Health Grand National with a fine victory at Naas.
The JP McManus-owned eight-year-old was a well supported 3-1 chance for the Grade Three WhatOddsPaddy? Chase – a race trainer Ted Walsh had previously won with subsequent Grand National winner Papillon and his Aintree third, Seabass.
Bidding for his first victory since landing the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, Any Second Now was positioned in the slipstream of last year’s winner Cadmium for much of the two-mile journey, before taking over the lead in the home straight.
With the front-running Cadmium weakening tamely out of contention, 5-2 favourite Articulum emerged as the biggest threat to Walsh’s runner – who dug deep in the testing conditions to score by a length and a quarter in the hands of Mark Walsh.
Sky Bet cut the winner to 10-1 for Aintree, making him their second-favourite behind the remarkable dual winner Tiger Roll at 4-1.
Ted Walsh said: “He travelled well and jumped well, and if he runs as well as Seabass (at Aintree), I’ll be delighted.
“He was nicely treated with 11st 1lb on his back. The only fence he reached for was the last, and Mark was delighted with him.
“It’s a good prep for Aintree. Whether he’s good enough or not, only time will tell. He’s going there in a good frame of mind and he gets the trip. If you’re not in you can’t win!
“He won a Grade Two hurdle at Punchestown as a novice. He’s a classy enough horse, and the soft ground suited him as well.”
Mark Walsh and McManus were soon on the mark again when Castle Oliver completed his hat-trick in the Paddy Power Road To Cheltenham Novice Handicap Chase.
Successful at Fairyhouse and Down Royal since the turn of the year, Padraig Roche’s inmate was an 8-1 shot to add to his tally in this 50,000 contest – and stayed on well from the final obstacle to prevail by three and a half lengths.
“Mark said they were going a bit faster today than his previous two races, and he made a few mistakes,” said Roche.
“He did well to get back into it.
“We put him in the Leinster National back here in a couple of weeks, and we’ll see what JP and Frank (Berry, racing manager) want to do.”
Instant Return may have earned himself a place in Jessica Harrington’s small but select Cheltenham team after justifying 5-2 favouritism in the Panoramic Restaurant At Naas Handicap Hurdle under Paddy Kennedy.
Paddy Power cut the winner to 16-1 from 25-1 for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Prestbury Park.
Harrington said: “He’s improving, and if he got into the bottom of the Boodles and the ground was soft I’d be very tempted. They will go very quick, which would suit him, and he’ll stay up the hill.”
Harrington swiftly completed a double, with the Robbie Power-ridden Port Stanley (5-2) getting the better of stable companion Lynwood Gold by half a length in the Naas Nursery Of Champions Maiden Hurdle.
“He’s been very consistent, and Robert said he was a lot more professional today. He can go for a novice and has plenty of experience now,” said the Moone-based trainer.
“I’m delighted with Lynwood Gold, and hopefully he can win his maiden hurdle now. He’s a nice horse and will go back on the Flat as well.”
Oliver McKiernan and Barry Browne combined to land the Paddy Power “From The Horse’s Mouth” Handicap Hurdle with 3-1 favourite Aarons Day.
The Gigginstown House Stud-owned pair of Gordon Elliott’s 7-4 favourite Farouk D’alene and Joseph O’Brien’s Fire Attack fought out a pulsating finish to the Paddy Power Super Enhancements (Pro/Am) INH Flat Race, with the former edging victory by a head under Jamie Codd.