Minella Indo made a foot-perfect start to a campaign connections hope will culminate with a tilt at Cheltenham Gold Cup glory in the M.W. Hickey Memorial Chase at Wexford.
Henry de Bromhead’s charge won twice at Grade One level over hurdles, including victory in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham in 2019, and came close to doubling his tally at the showpiece meeting when mowed down late by Champ in last season’s RSA Chase.
While dropped to Grade Three level for his reappearance, Minella Indo’s task was not straightforward, with Gordon Elliott’s Kim Muir winner Milan Native holding a race-fitness advantage following a recent narrow verdict at Galway.
The big two went at it from flag-fall, with both horses jumping soundly throughout the two-mile-seven-furlong contest.
Minella Indo’s superior class began to tell before the home turn, with the 8-13 favourite safely negotiating the remaining obstacle and passing the post 25 lengths clear in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.
Paddy Power reacted by trimming the winner to 10-1 from 12-1 for the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup next March.
De Bromhead: “I’m delighted with that – he jumped brilliant and Rachael was brilliant on him.
“He looked sharp for his first run. We got him in a bit earlier and maybe that made the difference.
“Coming away from the RSA, you’d be hoping he’d turn into a Gold Cup horse, but we’ll see and we’ll take it one race at time.
“It’s very likely he’ll go for the race at Navan now next month (Grade Two BetVictor Make Your Best Bet Chase).
“We were giving Milan Native weight and I really feared him with a run under his belt. I couldn’t be happier with our lad.”
Andy Dufresne justified odds-on favouritism in the Garry Flood Landscaping Beginners Chase.
A £330,000 purchase by owner JP McManus, the six-year-old won a Grade Two over hurdles last season and was a 1-2 shot for his debut over regulation fences under Mark Walsh.
The Gordon Elliott-trained six-year-old jumped well on the whole on his way to a seven-and-a-half-length success – and could step up to Grade One level for the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse on his next start.
“It was a good performance and very straightforward. He got close to the fourth last both times, but apart from that, he was very good,” said Elliott.
“Speaking to Mark, he said we could step him up in trip, so I’d imagine he’ll step up to two and a half miles the next day. I’ll talk to his owners, but I’d imagine he’ll go for something like the Drinmore.
“It looked like he was going better at the line than he was two out, so I’d say a step up in trip will suit him.”