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Druid’s Altar cut for Cheltenham following Naas triumph

Joseph O’Brien will be hoping lightning can strike for a third time in the case of Druid’s Altar.

The previous two winners of the Naas Rated Novice Hurdle, O’Brien’s Band Of Outlaws and Gordon Elliott’s Aramax, have gone on to win the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Sent off the 13-8 favourite, Druid’s Altar was hard pressed on the run-in by Zoffanien, but Hugh Morgan galvanised him and he ended up going away to win by two and a quarter lengths.

Betfair and Paddy Power cut the winner to 14-1 from 25s for the Boodles next month.

Assistant trainer Brendan Powell said: ““He has a good attitude and stays well. Hugh said he was better there with a bit of company, because he’s made it a few times.

“He was in top-class company on his last few races and it’s nice to get his head in front again. He’s done it nicely in the end and he seems to cope with most types of ground.

“He’s a big horse and will jump a fence some day.”

Owner JP McManus and jockey Mark Walsh enjoyed a treble on the card, instigated by expensive French purchase Gentleman De Mee (2-7 favourite), trained by Willie Mullins, in the second division of the Naas Business Club Members Maiden Hurdle on his Irish debut.

Mullins said: “He had a setback early in the season, so I hadn’t as much done as I would have liked. It was pure natural ability what he did there.

“He jumped well, a bit green looking at the Irish hurdles, even though he’s schooled over them before. Mark thought he was in control at all stages and I’m very happy with the performance.

“He’s in the Supreme and the Ballymore, and to me he’d be looking more like a Ballymore horse. I’ll see what connections want to do, but I think he’ll improve as he goes up in trip.”

Mullins and Walsh also teamed up to win the feature Opera Hat Chase with Elimay, while Walsh then rode Elliott’s Minella Till Dawn (12-1) to victory in the Naas Handicap Chase.

Elliott said: “He’s a bit of a monkey, but he has plenty of ability. Mark knows him well and gave him a good ride today. He’s a bit hot and cold and thankfully it worked out today.

“He missed the fifth-last and got a bit close to the last, but other than that he wasn’t bad. We’ll try to find something similar.”

Elliott also took the concluding bumper with Eyewitness (13-2), ridden by Jamie Codd.

The trainer said: “He’s come forward a lot from his first run. He was very green the last day and we could ride him the way we wanted to ride him today.

“He stays and is a nice horse. He probably doesn’t want real winter ground.

“He could mix it between the Flat and bumpers and will go over hurdles. He’ll do everything.”

Hurricane Cliff (13-8) floored the odds-on Captain Kangaroo in division one of the Naas Business Club Members Maiden Hurdle.

The pair jumped two out together, before the winner just began to assert and ultimately was always doing enough from the last to prevail by two and a half lengths in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.

Winning trainer Henry de Bromhead said: “I was a bit disappointed with him in Leopardstown at Christmas so we said we’d sit with him and wait a bit longer. He ran well at Punchestown and it’s lovely to see him go and do it here.

“He’s learning all the time and is a lovely big scopey horse. He should be good over a fence in time.

“We’ll aim for the festivals here later on in the spring.”

A gamble on the Charles Byrnes-trained Rough Terrain went astray in the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Hurdle, with the 2-1 favourite beaten when taking a tired fall at the last.

The race was won by Philip Dempsey’s Fou Diligence (7-1) under Tommy Brett.

“He’d been knocking on the door and you’d be hoping he hadn’t missed his chance. He was consistent last year and then got a knee injury and it took him a while to come back,” said Dempsey.

You Raised Me Up is already eight and had finished third in the Ladbrokes Hurdle at last year’s Dublin Racing Festival.

However, he only won for the first time over hurdles in September and followed up when finishing with a late flourish in the Connolly’s Red Mills Irish EBF Auction Novice Hurdle – a race the same connections won with City Island in 2019 who went on to win the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle next time out.

“We were waiting for a bit of nicer ground and I didn’t think we were going to get it,” said Brassil after the success of his 9-2 chance.

“Anyway I wanted to run him here to qualify for the final in Punchestown and also a stepping stone to running in the County Hurdle in Cheltenham.

“Sean and Bernadine (Mulryan, owners) like to go to the festival meetings.”