Blazing Khal took his unbeaten record over timber to two with a battling display in the Grade Two Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The five-year-old, trained by Charles Byrnes, got the better of Gelino Bello on the run to the line to score by two and a half lengths in the hands of Donal McInerney.
Current Mood took the seven-strong field along until after the second-last, where she was passed by Blazing Khal and Gelino Bello. The pair came close together at the final flight and it was the former who proved the strongest from there.
The 9-2 shot had only made his hurdling debut five weeks ago at Galway, where he won a 17-runner maiden event.
Blazing Khal was given a quote of 20-1 for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival with Paddy Power and Betfair, who introduced him at 25-1 for the Ballymore.
Byrnes – who returned to training in September after a six-month suspension having been found to have been “seriously negligent” in relation to his supervision of Viking Hoard at Tramore in October 2018 – said: “We had high hopes, he was impressive the last day and I thought he’d come on plenty for it.
“His bumper form back in Ireland worked out very well, so he did look a good horse. We’ve always considered him more of a three-mile horse, he finds an awful lot at the end of his races. He jumped a wee bit slow at stages, but I think that will come on. It was the same in his bumper at Limerick, it turned out to be hot bumper so I think he’s a very good horse.”
Looking to March, Byrnes – no stranger to Festival glory having guided the top-class Solwhit to the World Hurdle crown in 2013 – added: “I’d be thinking of the Albert Bartlett, but if the ground was soft he could go for the Ballymore. The Albert Bartlett would look the obvious race.
“I’d imagine he’d probably have one more run back in Ireland before then.”
It was a landmark winner for McInerney, who said: “It’s my first winner here, it’s brilliant. I was happy enough with where I was, just going down the back it was getting a bit tight for him and I just had to sit.
“He’s still a bit green and novicey over his hurdles, but he was good there.”