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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.”

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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.”

Chilli too hot for Sandown rivals

Whitehotchillifili took her career to new heights after opening her account for the season with a tenacious success in the Unibet “You’re On” Mares Hurdle at Sandown.

The Harry Fry-trained seven-year-old claimed a first Listed victory in the two-mile-four-furlong event after going one better than on her previous start over course and distance.

Having travelled powerfully into contention, it looked as though Whitehotchillifili had handed the initiative to long-time leader, Stormy Ireland, after making a bad mistake at the second last.

Gathered in by Sean Bowen, the 13-8 shot found an extra gear up the run-in to forge past Stormy Ireland before going on to score by three lengths.

Fry said: “On ratings she had a lot to find (with Stormy Ireland), but we knew our mare goes on the ground as she ran a cracker here under top weight a month ago.

“It was always the plan to go to that race then on to today. I was cursing at the second last as I thought the plan had come unstuck. She battled on really well and they went a good tempo, which really suited her.

“She is much more settled these days. Last year she didn’t stay, but certainly that intermediate trip suits her in these conditions.”

Fry has earmarked another Listed event at Warwick next month for Whitehotchillifili ahead of a potential outing in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, for which she was introduced at 33-1 by Paddy Power.

He added: “There is another mares’ Listed race at Warwick over two-five in February and, all being well, that is where she will go hopefully. Conditions won’t be too dissimilar to today.

“She ran a good race in the mares’ novice at Cheltenham finishing sixth. Ground conditions would need to be in her favour to go back to the Festival.”

Nicholls confident Stormy Ireland can regain winning thread

Paul Nicholls expects Stormy Ireland to make the most of a significant drop in class the Unibet “You’re On” Mares’ Hurdle.

The Jared Sullivan-owned seven-year-old will bid to strike gold on her fourth start since joining the Ditcheat handler from Willie Mullins when stepping back up to two and a half miles in the Listed contest at Sandown.

Although Stormy Ireland beat only one rival home in the Grade Two International Hurdle at Cheltenham last month, Nicholls believes the result was better than it looks on paper.

Speaking in his Betfair column, Nicholls said: “Chasing didn’t work out for her in two starts this season, so she was back over hurdles last time when she ran much better than her finishing position suggests in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham three weeks ago.

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“That has sharpened her and this Listed mares’ hurdle is a more suitable target for Stormy Ireland, who has a 4lb penalty to carry for winning a Grade Three race in Ireland.

“I’d say she should be hard to beat stepping up in trip against her own sex.”

Robin Gold has been in prolific form this season winning four of her last five starts, however, trainer Dan Skelton feels she will have to improve again if she is to add to that tally.

Skelton said: “Though Harry (Skelton) won on her last time, Bridget (Andrews) will get the ride on Robin Gold as she gets on very well with her.

“She has been very progressive this season, but this is a massive step up in class again though.

“The track will suit her as it is a track you can play late on. She has got a lot on her plate being realistic though, but we are looking forward to giving it a go.”

Harry Fry is confident testing conditions will play to the strengths of Whitehotchillifili, who finished second off top weight in a handicap over course and distance on her latest start.

He said: “Strictly on ratings, they’ve all got plenty to find with Stormy Ireland.

“Our mare ran a really good race there a month ago under top weight.

“Conditions will not be an issue for her and hopefully she goes there with a very strong each-way chance.”

The field is completed by Flow Away from the yard of Alex Hales, the Venetia Williams-trained Quick Wave and Desaray Girl, who will represent Micky Hammond.