Posts

Autumn campaign on the agenda for Helvic Dream

Trainer Noel Meade is eyeing an autumn campaign with his Tattersalls Gold Cup hero Helvic Dream.

While no stranger to big-race success over jumps, the Tu Va handler landed his very first Group One success on the Flat when Helvic Dream got the better of old rival Broome in a thrilling contest at the Curragh last month.

Broome has since filled the runner-up spot in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, while True Self and Cayenne Pepper – third and fourth in the Tattersalls Gold Cup – both performed well in defeat at the Curragh last weekend.

Meade, however, is keeping his powder dry for the backend of the season.

He said: “We gave him a break for three weeks after the Tattersalls Gold Cup and he’s just back in the gym again now.

“The plan is not to run again probably until September. We want soft ground, so we didn’t think there was much point keeping him going all the time when the ground is fast.”

Helvic Dream holds an entry in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on September 11, while Meade also views October’s Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot as a possible objective.

Noel Meade at the Curragh
Noel Meade at the Curragh (PA)

He added: “He’s in the Irish Champion Stakes, but the ground in Leopardstown probably won’t let that happen.

“There’s a few other races – there’s a race or two in France that might suit – and also the Ascot race might work out because it’s usually run on soft ground.

“We might even try him over a mile, but we’ll see how we get on.”

No hurry for Helvic plans after Dream Curragh success

Noel Meade is in no rush to make concrete plans for Helvic Dream following his thrilling victory in the Tattersalls Gold Cup on Sunday.

Having finished behind the reopposing Broome on each of his three previous outings this season, the four-year-old turned the tables on his favoured soft ground – coming out on top by a short head at the Curragh to provide his trainer with a first Group One success on the Flat.

“There’s not a bother on him this morning – he’s in good form,” Meade said on Monday.

“It was great. He had a few lengths to make up (with Broome) and it’s great when it happens.”

While Aidan O’Brien is considering races like the Coronation Cup at Epsom and the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot for the runner-up, Helvic Dream does not hold any big-race entries at this stage.

Meade feels cut in the ground is essential for his charge and would not be averse to dropping him back in trip from a mile and a quarter to a mile at some stage.

He added: “I hadn’t really been thinking about Royal Ascot because I thought the ground would be too quick for him. Ascot in October might be worth thinking about, but Ascot in June is definitely not on my mind with him anyway.

“I haven’t really thought about where he’s going to go next, to be honest. We’ll just have to sit down and have a think about where we’re going to head.

“We wouldn’t be against bringing him back a couple of furlongs. Colin (Keane, jockey) has been thinking that for a while.

“The ground is key. We did run him on good-ish ground at the Curragh this year and he didn’t operate on it at all.

“He definitely won’t go further (than a mile and a quarter). We’ll enter him in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown and the Champion Stakes at Ascot and we’ll have a look around and see what’s available beforehand.

“In normal times you’d be thinking France would be a place you’d normally get easy ground, but we’ll get our breath first and see.”

Helvic Dream gives Noel Meade first top-level victory on the Flat

Helvic Dream provided trainer Noel Meade with a first Group One winner on the Flat as he came out on top in a thrilling renewal Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh.

While the multiple champion trainer is no stranger to high-profile success over jumps, his Flat runners at Group One level have been far less frequent since Sweet Mint landed what is now the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot in 1978.

Having finished behind the reopposing 10-11 favourite Broome on his three previous outings this season, Helvic Dream was sent off at 8-1 under Colin Keane – and moved ominously into the slipstream of his old rival halfway up the home straight.

To his credit, Broome refused to go down without a fight and the two flashed by the line almost as one, but the judge confirmed Helvic Dream had won the day by a short head.

The Willie Mullins-trained True Self, who was last seen landing a valuable prize in Saudi Arabia in February, ran a fine race in third in the hands of Hollie Doyle.

Meade said: “I shall die happy now – I was roaring!

“Colin said to me he was going to sit a bit closer to him (Broome), sit behind him and have one go on him. He said he went too soon the last day and he actually said he went too soon again today.

“He has an electrifying turn of speed to get there and he lasted out. It was a brilliant ride.

“He’s a lovely horse who has been a pleasure to train. He doesn’t take a lot of work – he doesn’t take a lot of anything.

“There’s been plenty of people trying to buy him, but thanks to the lads that kept faith in me as I felt he could win a Group One.”

Noel Meade was thrilled to claim his first Group One winner
Noel Meade was thrilled to claim his first Group One winner (PA)

Reflecting on his previous efforts behind Broome, the trainer said: “We were very disappointed with his first run and then the second day the ground was too quick and Colin minded him. He said we’d beat them if we get soft ground.

“He improved and ran well the last day and Colin was confident enough today going out. I was afraid to even dream about it, to be honest.

“It’s something you dream about.”

He added: “I’ve had a number of horses placed in Guineas, and a fourth in the Epsom Derby, but that is my first Group One.

“They are so easy to train compared to jumpers. I’m always joking with Flat trainers that they are getting away with murder.

“You don’t have to train Flat horses to stay or to jump and there is not nearly as many injuries.

“I’ve always said that Sheikh Mohammed should have sent Willie 200 horses years ago and got him out of the way!

“I was afraid to even dream about it (winning a Group One). I’m thrilled and it means a lot.”

Jeff Kidder upsets the odds once more at Punchestown

Jeff Kidder sprang a 22-1 surprise for trainer Noel Meade as he lifted the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle, the final Grade One of this year’s Punchestown Festival and the Irish jumps season.

Triumph Hurdle hero Quilixios was widely expected to supplement his Cheltenham Triumph Hurdle success and maintain his unbeaten record, but he was beaten a long way out under Rachael Blackmore.

His swift retreat appeared to have handed victory to Willie Mullins’ Cheltenham third Haut En Coleurs, but Jeff Kidder found plenty in the straight, collaring the Willie Mullins-trained runner before the last to go on to win by three-quarters of a length in the hands of Sean Flanagan.

Zanahiyr swooped late to grab second after getting a bit tight for room with the winner at one point, prompting a stewards’ inquiry that made no difference to the result.

Sean Flanagan celebrates on Jeff Kidder
Sean Flanagan celebrates on Jeff Kidder (Niall Carson/PA)

Jeff Kidder was claiming his fourth hurdles victory, having won the juvenile handicap hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival at 80-1 before graduating to Grade Two company at Fairyhouse last month.

“I said in Fairyhouse, if he ever jumps them all he’ll be a really good horse and he did jump today,” said Meade.

“He jumped brilliant and he’s just never stopped improving. Since he came back from Cheltenham, he’s like a film star in the yard. The girls take him off to the beach for a dip and he’s become a star in the yard. I think he’s liking every minute of it.

“A real fast gallop really suits him, like they went in the Fred Winter and as they did there. They were coming back to him and his jumping was fantastic.”

Meade will now look to return to the Flat with Jeff Kidder, adding: “He’s going to have a little break, although I suppose he’s so well you’d think to yourself you should keep going.

“He’ll certainly have a run on the Flat, he’s never going to be a chaser.

“Now that he’s won that, he’s going to have to stay with the big fellas now, that’s his last chance to run in a four-year-old race, so he’ll have to wait until the back end to have a go again.

“It’s been a lonely old week up until now. I said Willie has been the easiest man to find in Punchestown as he’s been in the winner’s enclosure all week.

“To be fair he was the first one to congratulate me. I’m delighted, absolutely thrilled.”

Stormy Ireland (7-2) galloped her rivals into submission in the Grade One Coolmore Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle – chalking up Mullins’ 17th winner of the week.

Danny Mullins was eager to seize the initiative on the seven-year-old, who was one of four contenders for Willie Mullins.

Stormy Ireland bowled along in front and was still full of running with two to jump as 8-11 favourite and stablemate Concertista tried to reel in her handy advantage along with Minella Melody.

However, Mullins had plenty up his sleeve and the mare, who only recently return to Mullins’ care following an unsuccessful spell with Paul Nicholls, cruised home by to take a first top-level victory.

Stormy Ireland impressed Willie Mullins with her win
Stormy Ireland impressed Willie Mullins with her win (Niall Carson/PA)

The Closutton handler admitted his surprise at Stormy Ireland’s progress following a victory at Fairyhouse last month and could now look at Flat targets with his charge.

He said: “She appears to have improved from Fairyhouse. It’s a great day for Danny, a nice double for him.

“That mare surprised me, how much she has come on from that.

“We’ll keep her in training, I don’t think she’s going to go to the breeding shed this year as she looks to have plenty left in the tank.

“I’m having second thoughts now about going chasing with her and maybe we could go back to the Flat with her.

“She’s by Motivator and it might be a safer career option than going chasing. I don’t think she’s going to improver her pedigree by getting black type over fences, she has enough over hurdles.

“If she could do something on the Flat, that would be better for her.”

Mullins made it 18 when the Brian Hayes-ridden Brahma Bull lifted the Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase, before Koshari grabbed another for the trainer in the Baroneracing.com Handicap Hurdle under Ricky Doyle.

Call It Magic (left) made amends for Thursday's mishap
Call It Magic (left) made amends for Thursday’s mishap (Niall Carson/PA)

Keith Donoghue made amends for an unfortunate incident on Thursday as he teamed up with Call It Magic (22-1) to win the opening Dooley Insurance Group Cross Country Chase.

The duo came unstuck in the La Touche Cup when Donoghue took the wrong course, but trainer Ross O’Sullivan thrilled to see the pair right the wrong with a half-length verdict over Ballyboker Bridge.

“I got an unbelievable kick out of that. I can’t believe it, he hasn’t won a race for four years,” said O’Sullivan.

“All the drama the other day and all the effing and blinding that went with it. I’m in shock. He battled and jumped brilliant.

“Racing is so funny with the twists and turns. Myself and Keith were at loggerheads with each other on Thursday, but we’re back today and he gave the horse an absolute genius of a ride.”

Jeff Kidder follows up Cheltenham success with Fairyhouse victory

Cheltenham Festival hero Jeff Kidder followed up in the Rathbarry And Glenview Studs Juvenile Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

A winner over the course and distance earlier in the campaign, Noel Meade’s charge was last seen springing an 80-1 surprise in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle in the Cotswolds last month.

Despite that big-race triumph, Jeff Kidder was second-best in the market for this Grade Two contest at 5-1, with the previously unbeaten Teahupoo all the rage as the 4-7 market leader.

It turned into a straight shootout between the two from early in the home straight – and while Teahupoo loomed up looking a big threat, Jeff Kidder already looked to be getting the better of the argument when the odds-on shot produced an untidy leap at the final flight.

Jeff Kidder returns to the Fairyhouse winner's enclosure
Jeff Kidder returns to the Fairyhouse winner’s enclosure (Gary Carson/PA)

In the end Sean Flanagan’s mount prove his Cheltenham success was no fluke with a decisive three-length verdict.

“He’s improving all the time,” said Meade.

“We gave him a little break after he ran in the Grade Two in Leopardstown at Christmas and I was actually worried if I’d left him off too long, but obviously it was perfect. We just let him in and out and let him enjoy himself.

“If he ever learns how to jump the whole lot of them he’ll be grand – he only jumped half of them.

“I’d say he was very weak last year and is starting to get a bit stronger.”

On future plans, he added: “If he never does any more he’s done a lot, but hopefully he will do more.

“I can’t see any reason why he won’t run in Punchestown now in the Grade One and the plan was to run on the Flat during the summer. Colin (Keane) said to me last year ‘when you get him over two miles, he’ll win a Cesarewitch for you’.

“Off 68 he should be able to win a Flat race somewhere, you’d imagine.”

Stormy Ireland made a successful second debut for Willie Mullins in the Grade Two Underwriting Exchange Hurdle.

The Motivator mare won six times during her first stint with the Closutton handler, before being moved to Paul Nicholls’ yard along with the rest of owner Jared Sullivan’s Irish-based string.

Stormy Ireland wins on her first start for new owners
Stormy Ireland wins on her first start for new owners (Niall Carson/PA)

She failed to win in four starts in Britain, but having since been sold to new owners for £75,000, she was a 7-2 chance on her first start since returning to the Mullins yard.

Sent straight to the lead by the trainer’s nephew Danny Mullins, Stormy Ireland set a sound gallop from flag-fall and had enough in the tank to hold off 85-40 favourite French Dynamite by a length and a quarter.

Mullins said: “She’s getting her style of racing back and I think Danny suited her great.

“She was bought to breed from, but her owners said we’d discuss after a run or two whether we breed from her this year or not and I think we’ll probably keep her to race and maybe breed next year.

“She could go to Punchestown if there’s a race for her – maybe the Mares (Champion Hurdle). We’ll probably go over fences when the new season comes around.

“We were very happy when we got her back – she was in good shape.”

Trainer Karl Thornton and jockey Donagh Meyler combined to land the Farmhouse Foods Novice Handicap Hurdle with 11-2 favourite Shanroe.

“He’ll go back on the Flat now and we’ll target premier handicaps with him,” said Thornton.

“He’s an odd horse, but his work is always very good. I said I’d run him over hurdles today and leave him then coming into the Flat season.

Shanroe won the Easter Monday opener at Fairyhouse
Shanroe won the Easter Monday opener at Fairyhouse (Niall Carson/PA)

“Off 97 I still think he’s well handicapped on the Flat. We’ll target Ascot and a few of those two-mile races.”

The Francis Casey-trained Max Flamingo (4-1) benefited from a well-judged ride from Denis O’Regan when winning the Fairyhouse Steel Handicap Hurdle.

Casey said: “He showed a lot of inexperience there, but it worked out right and he loves the better ground.

“I think he’s going to be a chaser some day and I’d love to be back here next year for a big one.”

Festival hero Jeff Kidder shoots for Fairyhouse glory

Cheltenham Festival hero Jeff Kidder bids to follow up in the Rathbarry & Glenview Studs Juvenile Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

The four-year-old ran out an authoritative winner of the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle in the Cotswolds last month and trainer Noel Meade is looking forward to testing his powers at Grade Two level on Easter Monday.

He said: “He came out of Cheltenham really well and actually was a kilo heavier on Friday than he was going to Cheltenham.

“He’s fresh as a daisy so we decided we’d let him take his chance, because once you get past Punchestown, he’s into the big world then.”

Jeff Kidder’s biggest threat appears to be the Denise Foster-trained Teahupoo, who is unbeaten in three starts and is already a dual winner over the course and distance.

“Denise’s horse is probably a fair horse. Hopefully he mightn’t be as good on the better ground, but I’d say he’ll be hard to beat,” Meade added.

The Tu Va handler also has a major contender for the second Grade Two on the card in Beacon Edge.

The Doyen gelding steps back in distance for the two-and-a-half-mile Underwriting Exchange Hurdle after finishing a creditable fourth in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Meade said: “I said we’d declare him and have a look. He had a hard race in Cheltenham, but Sean (Flanagan) cantered him on Saturday morning and was very happy.”

If Beacon Edge does take his chance, he will be taking on rivals that include the Mouse Morris-trained French Dynamite, Foster’s Pertemps Final runner-up The Bosses Oscar, Scarpeta and Stormy Ireland from the Willie Mullins stable.

Scarpeta was fourth to Beacon Edge in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan on his latest start, while Stormy Ireland has her first race since returning to the Closutton handler since having a spell with Paul Nicholls at Ditcheat.

“Scarpeta has a little bit to find on ratings, but he’s in good form. Hopefully, he’ll run well,” said Mullins’ assistant David Casey.

“Stormy Ireland is back with us after being away in England. She’s coming back from a break. She is in good form and worked very well during the week. Hopefully, she’ll run well.”

Grade Two honours are also up for grabs in the Devenish Chase, for which Fakir D’oudairies will be a hot favourite.

Joseph O’Brien’s charge would not be winning out of turn, having filled the runner-up spot on three of his four starts this season – most recently in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.

Mullins is again two-handed with Easy Game and Annamix, who should both appreciate the spring ground.

“Easy Game has been crying out for a bit of nicer ground. It should suit him,” said Casey.

“Annamix won his beginners’ chase round Fairyhouse and going back there on nicer ground will help him.”

Battleoverdoyen (Foster) and Castlegrace Paddy (Pat Fahy) are also in the mix.

Thedevilscoachman on course for Fairyhouse date

Thedevilscoachman is on target for Fairyhouse’s big Easter meeting having missed the Cheltenham Festival.

An impressive winner of a Listed event at Punchestown, the Noel Meade-trained five-year-old has won four of his five races under rules.

His sole defeat came at the hands of Willie Mullins’ subsequent Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Appreciate It, and Meade was rather glad his charge was at home in Ireland rather than chasing the 24-length winner in vain at Cheltenham.

“Everything is good and if everybody agrees we’ll be going to Fairyhouse for the novice hurdle, that’s the plan,” said Meade.

“He’s in good shape now, he just got a tiny little nick when he won the last day which slowed him down for a week and ruled out Cheltenham.

“However, having watched Appreciate It come up the hill at Cheltenham, I was glad I was at home!”

Meade was on the mark at the meeting himself when Jeff Kidder caused an 80-1 surprise in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

He added: “There’s nothing for him at Fairyhouse. I’ll have to see as I haven’t made a plan as to where he’ll go next, it will probably be Punchestown.”

‘Premier League’ domination of Cheltenham no surprise to Irish handicapper

Irish National Hunt Handicapper Andrew Shaw believes results at Cheltenham last week “prove beyond doubt” the best horses are in Ireland.

Shaw grew up in an era when Ireland left the Cotswolds reeling with a solitary victory, but the wheel has gone full circle now.

So much so that Shaw likened it to the Irish contingent playing in the Premier League while their British counterparts are scrambling for promotion out of the Championship.

“I think it proves beyond doubt we simply have the best horses,” said Shaw.

The Irish staff cheered each others success from the Best Mate enclosure
The Irish staff cheered each others success from the Best Mate enclosure (Tim Goode/PA)

“Back in the 1980s when we were lucky to come away with one winner, it used to be the other way and we didn’t win any handicaps. It’s turned on its head and one of the main reasons is we have the best horses.

“The best horses are bought here and even British owners send their horses here. It’s a bit like the Premier League versus the Championship. We simply have the best horses and it is a tribute to Horse Racing Ireland and the committees that are there.”

Shaw feels the disparity in prize-money is a reason some major owners are now choosing to have their horses trained in Ireland.

“We have the races in place to entice them to come over, the prize-money is in place. I think it was Sporting John who won the Scilly Isles and picked up £20,000 – the equivalent Grade One in Ireland is worth €50-60,000,” said Shaw.

“It’s all about the economics really. The money is here, the best horses are here and that is why we are so successful – that’s my take, we just have the best horses.”

Noel Meade, on the scoresheet himself with Jeff Kidder in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, concurs and feels it is currently a perfect storm.

“When I looked beforehand I thought we’d have a lot, but often it doesn’t work out like that. I suppose the difference was all the handicaps as well,” he said.

“It is a surprise for it to be a total wipe-out, especially when Envoi Allen went down, he would probably have been another one and we got beat another two short-heads in other races.

Jeff Kidder (left) was a winner for Noel Meade
Jeff Kidder (left) was a winner for Noel Meade (Michael Steele/PA)

“There’s no great secret, the best horses win the races. The best horses cost the most money, the most money is being spent by owners in Ireland at the moment. Whether that is because of the prize-money or because we are better trainers or because we are lucky they want to have them here, I don’t know.

“The fact Cheveley Park are buying those horses and sending them here was a terrible kick in the pants for the English trainers at the time. Simon Munir is another putting his money in here, it must be because of the prize money.

“We have a great set-up now and if you have a good horse in Ireland, the way the whole system is put together is much better. A horse like Envoi Allen, you can write down all the races he can run in within five minutes before you head to Cheltenham. It’s a great programme.

“When we put together all the mares’ races I was a bit against them because I didn’t think mares were as good, but they’ve worked very well. They are great for breeders and have worked very well.”

Fairyhouse officials would love to see Tiger Roll in Irish National

Officials at Fairyhouse have not given up hope of Tiger Roll running in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National on Easter Monday.

The 11-year-old bounced back to winning ways with an incredible fifth victory at the Cheltenham Festival last week, putting behind him a winless run stretching back to the 2019 Grand National at Aintree.

As his owners Gigginstown House Stud have already withdrawn him from the Aintree spectacular this year – where he would have been trying to equal Red Rum’s achievement of winning the race three times – Tiger Roll’s options now include the Bowl at Aintree, the Punchestown Gold Cup and the Irish National.

Peter Roe, general manager at Fairyhouse, said: “If Tiger Roll shows up we’d love that. For the team at Cullentra to get him back to the form he was in – from flag-fall you could tell he was loving it.”

After a very wet winter, the ground at Fairyhouse has dried up considerably but the weather could turn again before Easter.

“January and February were the wettest two months on record since we began recording, but we’ve had a dry fortnight,” said Roe.

“It’s unsettled going forward, but we’re yielding at the moment. I’m very happy.

“The support we have got from HRI and BoyleSports to keep the money at €400,000 is amazing. To get in this year you’ll be looking at (a handicap mark of) 136/137 so the quality is rising all the time.”

On that theme Irish handicapper Andrew Shaw admitted he found it just as hard as his British Horseracing Authority counterpart Martin Greenwood to put a figure on Tiger Roll before coming up with 163.

“It was difficult (to give him a mark) as it has been mentioned by Mr (Eddie) O’Leary that he is not as good as the Al Boum Photos and Minella Indos of the world. They think he should be getting a lot more weight off them, but he hasn’t run in a chase over park fences since November 2017,” said Shaw.

“We don’t take the form over the cross-country fences quite as literally as they do in Britain, but at the same time he has won the Aintree Grand National twice. He was in at Aintree off 166, he’s 3lb lower here which is pretty much the same as last year, though I know neither race was run.

“He’s 11 now, time catches up with us all. He won his Grand National off 159, so he’s only 4lb higher here. It’s a fair drop from the 171 which he was after his second National. It was difficult for Martin to drop the horse because he hasn’t run against Grade One horses, so we don’t know how good he is.

“He certainly looked as good last week as he had before in that race. What will make it difficult for Tiger Roll is that we have progressive novices in it, you don’t get those at Aintree.

“I’d love to see him run. I know he could run in the Betway Bowl, but he’d be wrong in that race against a few.”

The Bunny Boiler winning the Irish Grand National
The Bunny Boiler winning the Irish Grand National (Haydn West/PA)

One trainer with multiple entries is Noel Meade, who won the race with The Bunny Boiler in 2002.

“It is still my favourite win, I have to say. Fairyhouse to me was the place I got started as we weren’t a racing family, but we used to take a picnic there for the National,” said Meade.

“When I was growing up I had a scrapbook of Tom Dreaper and he won the National so many times – to stand in the place he did when I’d won was very special.

“I owe Ross Geraghty, Barry’s brother, for staying on him, he did everything he could to fall. He was quite a good horse, but a terrible jumper. Norman Williamson was telling me the other day that he won the Midlands National on him and was asked to ride at Fairyhouse but he said there was no chance he’d get round!”

Among Meade’s team are School Boy Hours and Brace Yourself, but both need plenty of withdrawals to guarantee a run in the maximum field of 30.

“School Boy Hours might not get in, but I always thought the trip would suit,” said Meade.

“Brace Yourself will take his chance, but wouldn’t want the ground too quick. Tout Est Permis hasn’t been running well, but he could go over to Aintree and see if a trip over livens him up. Brace Yourself is a fresh horse, but he’s only a novice.”

Layfayette seals fine week for Noel Meade

Layfayette came with a powerful late run to cap a fine week for trainer Noel Meade with victory in the Paddy Power Irish Lincolnshire at the Curragh.

Meade, who is better known for his exploits over jumps, produced the shock of Cheltenham with Jack Kidder at 80-1 in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

Layfayette was much more fancied at 8-1 and delivered the goods under a patient ride from Chris Hayes, as he dropped down to a mile for the first time since July.

Quizical was one of the early leaders with Star Of Cashel, Agitare and In From The Cold among those close-up in the 24-runner field.

With the field spread across the course, there was enough room for Hayes to get through in the final furlong and stamp his authority in the race.

Layfayette went on to win by half a length from Maker Of Kings, with Comfort Line another half a length away in third and Star Of Cashel a neck back in fourth.

“It’s nice when a plan comes together. We’ve always loved him and I gelded him during the winter,” said Meade.

“I spoke to Chris the other day and I said ‘I think the mile is too short, will I put blinkers on him?’. I put cheekpieces on him and he said they made some difference to him.

“The first day he ran here last year the ground was very quick and it took him a long time to get over it as he was sore after the run.

“He’s quite a nice horse and hopefully he’ll be able to build on that.”

Noel Meade and Chris Hayes with Layfayette
Noel Meade and Chris Hayes with Layfayette (Niall Carson/PA)

He went on: “He’s not a hurdler, he’s not that shape, and he has quite a flicky action.

“A mile and a quarter will probably suit him better, and he was second over a mile and a half.

“He was entitled to win a good one because he’s been knocking on the door.

“I’m delighted for the owner, too, because he hasn’t had a lot of luck lately.”

Beacon edges Boyne Hurdle as Tiger Roll trails home

Dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll remains on course for the Cheltenham Festival despite finishing a tailed-off last of six runners behind Beacon Edge in the Ladbrokes Boyne Hurdle at Navan.

A surprise winner of this Grade Two contest two years ago before going on to seal his second success at Aintree a couple of months later, Tiger Roll returned to Navan on a recovery mission following a disappointing start to his season around Cheltenham’s cross-country course.

However, while the 11-year-old travelled strongly for much of the two-mile-five-furlong journey under Keith Donoghue, he weakened out of contention early in the home straight and finished some 48 lengths behind the fifth placed Decor Irlandais.

Tiger Roll in action at Navan on Sunday
Tiger Roll in action at Navan on Sunday (Niall Carson/PA)

Trainer Gordon Elliott was not too disappointed as he felt conditions were against his runner, who is now set to head for the Glenfarclas Chase at the Festival next month.

Elliott said: “Keith said he travelled well to the third last, in horrible ground, and just got tired.

“It’s still all systems go for Cheltenham. Keith said he was happy with him, but he just got tired in the ground. He’ll be OK.

“Of course you want him to run better, but he hated that ground.”

At the business end of proceedings, it was the other two Gigginstown House Stud-owned runners who fought out the finish.

Tiger Roll’s stablemate Fury Road was the 11-8 favourite in the hands of Jack Kennedy and cut out much of the running before being joined by the Noel Meade-trained Beacon Edge (15-8) and Sean Flanagan after the final obstacle.

No quarter was given by either horse or jockey after the final flight, but it was Beacon Edge who pushed ahead where it mattered to prevail by a neck.

Meade said of the winner: “He had a colic at Christmas and he spent nearly a week in Kildare. Even though we thought he was at the time, he just wasn’t himself on his last run at Naas.

“He’s a fair horse. I wondered about him getting the trip, but he stays.

“Michael (O’Leary, owner) had it in his head that he’d go to Liverpool (Aintree) for the two-and-a-half-mile race (Aintree Hurdle), but he is in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. We have Diol Ker for that as well and we’ll see what turns up in it.”

Thedevilscoachman lifts Punchestown Listed honours

Thedevilscoachman continued his progression with a fourth win from five career starts at Punchestown on Sunday.

Successful on his racecourse debut in a bumper at Naas last season, Noel Meade’s charge made a victorious start over hurdles at Cork in November, before finishing fifth behind Appreciate It in Grade One company at Leopardstown over the Christmas period.

Having since bounced back to winning ways at Navan, the JP McManus-owned five-year-old was the 15-8 favourite as he stepped back up in class for the Listed I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Novice Hurdle.

And after travelling strongly for much of the two-mile contest under Mark Walsh, there was a lot to like about the way he knuckled down after the final flight to see off American challenger French Light by two lengths.

Paddy Power left Thedevilscoachman unchanged at 16-1 for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

Meade said: “It was a nice race for him. He’s so laidback – he just does whatever you want him to do.

“I’ll have to talk to JP and Frank (Berry, owner’s racing manager) about plans and see what they are thinking. We’ll see where the handicapper puts him in.

“He’s a nice horse to have. When you pick him up he has a great turn of foot, which is what you want in a real racehorse.”

Shady Operator also emerged as a potential Cheltenham contender for McManus after justifying even-money favouritism in the opening P.P. Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase.

Making his cross-country debut for trainer Enda Bolger, the eight-year-old took to it like a duck to water in the hands of Derek O’Connor to leave connections contemplating whether to have a crack at the Glenfarclas Chase in the Cotswolds.

“He did it well. He’s an experienced handicapper, but it was his first time over the course. He’d taken well to the banks at home and Derek said he was very professional,” said Bolger.

“We’ll see now how he is after this. I don’t know whether he’d be good enough to go to Cheltenham or not. He could be a horse to come back here in the spring, but we’ll see when we get him home and talk to the boss man.

“It’s Derek’s first winner over the banks.”

Willie Mullins and Paul Townend combined to land both divisions of the Happy Birthday Sarah Ann Madden Maiden Hurdle, with Pont Aval (9-2) bouncing back to form in division one and Jungle Boogie (2-13 favourite) claiming his second win from as many starts in division two.

Mullins said of Pont Aval: “She’d been doing nice work at home for the last couple of weeks. She was disappointing at Christmas and it’s good to see her back to form.

“Two and a half miles plus will be the programme for her for the rest of the season.”

Jungle Boogie may have earned himself a place on the champion trainer’s Cheltenham team following his 30-length success.

“He’s a brave horse and he was just a bit keen with Paul. He likes to get on about his job, likes to get on with jumping. I think he was too keen to jump well,” Mullins added.

“He looks a decent sort and we’ll see if the owner wants to travel (to Cheltenham) with him. He’s well entered up and could be one for the Ballymore or Albert Bartlett, but he could be very keen to be going for one of those races.

“We’ll see how he comes out of this first.”

Dermot McLoughlin’s Thunderosa (15-2) claimed the David Trundley Artist At Punchestown Handicap Hurdle under 7lb claimer Paddy O’Hanlon, before Jack Kennedy steered the Liz Doyle-trained Farmix (4-1) to an impressive win in the Punchestown Festival Of A Different Colour Rated Novice Chase.

Doyle said: “He’s not a quick horse, but he jumps so well and has such a big, long stride that we’ll keep him to two (miles).

“He might get an entry in a handicap in Cheltenham. He’s not overly experienced, so we’ll see what happens.”

Gigolo’ Dai Dai (10-1) won the concluding bumper for trainer Henry de Bromhead and jockey David Roche.

Daly Tiger roars at Fairyhouse

Daly Tiger sprang a 20-1 surprise in the Dan & Joan Moore Memorial Handicap Chase at Fairyhouse.

Noel Meade’s eight-year-old, carrying the colours of Gigginstown House Stud, put behind him a disappointing effort on this course five weeks ago to lift the valuable prize.

Sean Flanagan kept Daly Tiger off the pace set by the trio of Goulane Chosen, the 7-4 favourite Chatham Street Lad and Game Of War in the early stages.

He made stealthy progress as the pack closed in when Chatham Street Lad, impressive winner of Cheltenham’s Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, took the lead four out with a fine leap.

However, Daly Tiger soon joined and hit the front two out. Pont Aven made a late bid, but Daly Tiger stuck to his task well to win by five lengths. Chatham Street Lad was seven lengths away in third place.

“We put a claimer on him the last day. It probably wasn’t the claimer’s fault because he got his instructions to ride closer to the pace and I think we used him up a little bit too much,” said Meade.

“Today when Sean got him relaxed, he was just a different kettle of fish. He’s a brilliant jumper and he’s a nice horse.

“He’s going to get a fair old penalty for today so it might knock him out of handicaps.

“We’ll enter him in the Grand Annual (at Cheltenham), but I would imagine he’s going to have a lot of weight in that. I would think we’d probably look at Grade Threes. We’ll have a look where we go.

“I thought he’d go for a two-mile-five handicap in Leopardstown at the (Dublin) Festival meeting, but I’d say that’s a 150 race and I don’t think he’d get into that now.”

Chatham Street Lad headlines Fairyhouse entries

Cheltenham heroes Chatham Street Lad and The Shunter could lock horns in the Dan & Joan Moore Memorial Chase at Fairyhouse on Saturday.

The Mick Winters-trained trained Chatham Street Lad was a brilliant winner of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Prestbury Park last month, while The Shunter won the Greatwood Hurdle in November for Emmet Mullins.

The pair are among 25 remaining contenders for this weekend’s 75,000 euros contest, with Joseph O’Brien’s Front View and Impact Factor from Jessica Harrington’s yard potentially bidding to follow up recent course wins.

Gordon Elliott has left in six horses, including Chosen Mate, winner of the Grand Annual at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, while Willie Mullins has both Fan De Blues and Pont Aven.

Noel Meade’s Daly Tiger made an impressive start to the current campaign at Punchestown in November, but disappointed at Fairyhouse on his latest appearance.

Meade said: “Daly Tiger may run in the Dan Moore at Fairyhouse on Saturday. We’ll see how things progress this week.

“I don’t know why he ran so poorly the last day. Nothing went right for him and we’ll just have to put a line through it.”

Also featuring on Saturday’s card is the ITM Virtual Stallion Trail Hurdle, for which Gordon Elliott has entered Quilixios.

An impressive winner at both Punchestown and Down Royal, he tops a bumper entry of 17 along with the Willie Mullins-trained Youmdor.

Noel Meade enjoys birthday winner as Bloke delivers at Cork

Hes A Hardy Bloke provided Noel Meade with a winner on his 70th birthday with victory in the opening race at Cork on Saturday.

The Tu Va handler has established himself as one of the great Irish National Hunt trainers of the modern era since saddling his first winner some 50 years ago – and has won the Irish trainers’ title on multiple occasions.

Meade’s many Grade One winners include Harchibald, Go Native, Pandorama and Road To Riches.

Carrying the colours of six-times Cheltenham Festival-winning mare Quevega, Hes A Hardy Bloke was the 11-8 favourite for the GAIN Rated Novice Hurdle – and was not hard pressed to beat Takarengo by four lengths in the hands of Sean Flanagan.

The jockey said: “Happy days – it’s nice to get one for the birthday boy!

“The have gone a really nice gallop in the ground. He is a horse we thought had a very high cruising speed, but he has got through the ground quite well and has done it easily.”

The Mouse Morris-trained Gentlemansgame ran out a wide-margin winner of the CorkRacecourse.ie Maiden Hurdle.

A 250,000 euros purchase two months ago after impressing on his sole start in the point-to-point field, the grey looked an exciting recruit judged on this 21-length demolition job under Rachael Blackmore.

“He is a real chaser – he is a good, genuine type of horse who loves jumping and should have a nice future over fences,” said Morris.

“He wouldn’t show you a whole lot at home. We’ll now talk to Robcour (owner Brian Acheson) and see what they want to do.”

Willie Mullins continued his fantastic run of form, with the champion trainer’s nephew Danny Mullins steering Koshari to glory in the GAIN Handicap Hurdle.

The 4-1 shot defied a lengthy absence of 875 days to score by three and a half lengths from Fairyhill Run.

“It was nice to get it and it’s a proper training performance from Willie to have him back here in that shape after a long lay-off,” said the winning rider.

“He has done well physically from his break, did it well today and hopefully he can pick up a few more races.”

Velvet Elvis was an 11-8 winner of the Happy New Year From All At Cork Maiden Hurdle for Tom Gibney and Darragh O’Keeffe, before Robert Tyner and Phillip Enright combined to land the Thanks To All The Frontline Workers Beginners Chase with even-money shot Exit To The West.

Enright said: “She was entitled to do that on her form – she jumps and she stays and is proven on her two chase runs.

“She didn’t really do any more than you’d expect with the type of race it was.”

Robert Widger is eyeing high-profile races at Leopardstown and Cheltenham for Treacysenniscorthy after claiming top honours in the GAIN Handicap Chase, with Kevin Brouder the winning rider.

Widger said: “He’s racing off a lower mark than his hurdles rating and probably a lot of those horses today were exposed, so off his hurdles mark you’d have given him a chance.

“The Leopardstown Chase is one aim and there’s a Grand National trial at Naas over three miles and four furlongs in March. We’ll aim him for Leopardstown and if the ground is OK he’ll go for that.

“We half-thought he might be entitled to a little squeak in something like the Kim Muir at Cheltenham – three miles and two furlongs on better ground would suit him.”

Dot Love’s Betty Zane was a surprise 25-1 winner of the concluding bumper.