Bob Olinger made a winning start over fences with a comfortable verdict in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase at Gowran Park.
The six-year-old won three of his four starts over hurdles for Henry de Bromhead last term, culminating in Grade One victories at Naas in January and then in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
His planned start at Punchestown last week was scuppered by a stone bruise, but he was clearly over that issue as he cantered home in the hands of Darragh O’Keeffe.
Barcardys set the early gallop, with Bob Olinger racing alongside, and turning for home there were only really three contenders in the frame as Ashdale Bob made a dash for glory in the middle of the pair.
However, when O’Keeffe asked him Bob Olinger upped a gear and despite a slight stumble after jumping the third-last – at which Ashdale Bob came to grief – the result was never in doubt.
The 1-3 favourite cleared the final two fences safely, coming home six and a half lengths clear of Barcardys, with Master McShee a further 10 lengths back in third.
Bob Olinger’s regular rider Rachael Blackmore was absent as she was at Haydock to ride A Plus Tard in the Betfair Chase, and O’Keeffe was thrilled to team up with the top-class performer.
He said: “It was some experience. He jumped brilliant, travelled great and it’s as good a feeling as I’ve ever got on the racetrack. It was unreal.
“He has a serious engine and it was just a privilege to get the ride on him.”
When asked if he was a little novicey at a few fences, he added: “If you want to be critical of him, I suppose you could say that, but it’s his first run over fences and these take plenty of jumping.
“Overall I thought his jumping was very good and he’ll come on plenty from today as well.
“He has the scope and he won a point to point for Pat Doyle. Today was just about getting round, we know he has the engine.”
De Bromhead enjoyed what he saw watching on from Haydock.
He said: “He looked good. I’m happy that he got round and jumped well and seemed to win nicely.
“We’ll see where we go. There’s a nice race at Limerick at Christmas, but we’ll enjoy today and see after that.”
Gordon Elliott unleashed two useful hurdling prospects in Indigo Breeze and Saint Felicien, both partnered by Davy Russell.
Indigo Breeze (11-4) had two runs over obstacles last season, disappointing when well beaten by Gaillard Du Mesnil on the second occasion, but he appeared to be back to his best as he swooped late to collar Deploy The Getaway in the Noreside Catering Irish EBF Maiden Hurdle.
Elliott said: “He’s a nice horse. We’ve been trying to slow him down at home because he’s a bit hard on himself and keen.
“He’ll come on from that and he wants two and a half miles. We’ll try to find something small again for him.”
Saint Felicien (11-8 favourite) impressed on his Irish debut with an effortless two-and-a-quarter-length win in the Robcour colours in the Proficient Engineering Ltd Novice Hurdle.
Elliott added: “He’s a good horse and there is an awful lot of improvement in him. I think he is a fair horse.
“We’ll try to split them up, we’ve a few horses for the same sort of thing, and I’ll talk to the owner and see what he wants to do. He’s a very nice horse.”