All roads lead back to the Cheltenham Festival for Hidden Cyclone after Shark Hanlon’s pride and joy enjoyed his day in the sun with a fine front-running display in the Boylesports Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown.
The 10-year-old was a bridesmaid on a few occasions last season, finding one too good in the Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown, the Clarence House at Ascot and the Ryanair Chase at Prestbury Park in March.
Falls at Punchestown on his final appearance of the campaign and his comeback run at Thurles added to the frustration, but having chased home the reopposing Twinlight at Leopardstown over Christmas, he was the 6-5 favourite to reverse the placings with an 8lb pull at the weights in this Grade Two event.
Dominating from the front throughout, Hidden Cyclone jumped neatly in the hands of Andrew McNamara and left his rivals trailing when kicking on from two out.
With those previous tumbles perhaps in mind, McNamara slowed his mount down heading to the final fence, but he popped over nicely and had plenty in hand as he passed the post five lengths clear of Bright New Dawn, who edged out Twinlight for second.
Paddy Power cut Hidden Cyclone to 12-1 from 20-1 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham and although he also holds an entry in the Ryanair, the two-mile championship appears his likely destination.
Hanlon said: “We’re happy for a change. We’re so used to being second so it’s good to come here and win.
“Over two miles he’s good and he has plenty of cruising gears. I have to speak to the owners yet but I’d say the Queen Mother is the plan and he’ll go straight to Cheltenham now.
“He jumped well today, never put a foot wrong, and I couldn’t be happier. I’d say that’s the best he’s ever jumped.
“He also did something today which he hasn’t ever done and that’s settle. Andrew said going to the start he thought there was something wrong with him
“We’ve done a lot of work at home getting him settled and I have to thank my staff who have put in a lot of work.”
The Shay Barry-trained Bentelimar claimed Listed honours in the I.N.H. Stallion Owners European Breeders Fund Novice Hurdle.
A winner at Killarney, Wexford and Leopardstown in 2014, Bentelimar was 4-1 shot stepped up in class in the hands of Brian O’Connell and was three and a half lengths too good for All Hell Let Loose.
“He’s got a few entries at Cheltenham in the novices and we’ll see. I think the handicaps close next week and we might put him in a couple of them,” said Barry.
“He’s a lad to look forward to.”
November Handicap hero Open Eagle could finish only third on his jumping debut in the Michael Fitzpatrick Memorial Maiden Hurdle as the Sandra Hughes-trained Total Recall claimed victory under Bryan Cooper.
Open Eagle was unsurprisingly all the rage as the 8-13 favourite for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, but did not jump with great fluency and had to make do with minor honours behind 11-2 chance Total Recall.
“He’s very tough. He needs a good gallop so Bryan went on - he stays forever,” said Hughes.
“He doesn’t mind that ground and will have no problem stepping up in trip.
“We’ll see how he is after that and then make a plan.”
Embracing Change (7-2 favourite) was a comfortable winner of the Claim Your Free Trial At racinguk.com Grand National Trial for trainer Robert Tyner and jockey Phillip Enright.
The trainer’s wife, Mary Tyner, said: “If we can find another long-distance race, something similar, he’ll go for it.
“He enjoyed it today on the ground. The bit of extra distance makes it easier for him - it’s the trip he needs.”
Lean Araig (11-1) edged out hot favourite Mydor in a pulsating climax to the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle, while Gordon Elliott’s point-to-point winner General Principle annihilated his rivals as the even-money favourite for the bumper.
Odds-on favourite Quantitativeeasing proved a bitter disappointment as Peter Maher’s point-to-pointer Ballyboker Bridge clinched a 20-1 victory in the P.P. Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase.