The identity of the horse who will carry the hopes of a nation as the Irish banker at next year's Cheltenham Festival has yet to be confirmed. But yesterday there was no gainsaying the raw potential displayed by Boston Bob, who bridged the chasm between maiden and Grade 1 company with conspicuous ease in the Navan Novice Hurdle.
The six-year-old, with Ruby Walsh in the saddle, comfortably upset odds-on shot Mount Benbulben on his second outing over hurdles. His trainer Willie Mullins has plenty of burgeoning young talent at his disposal and need not rush into making a decision about its deployment three months hence just yet. The last time he picked a target for a winner of yesterday's two and a half-miler at Cheltenham, he did so correctly. Three seasons ago Mikael d'Haguenet followed up in the contest now run under the Neptune Management banner, storming home as a well-backed 5-2 favourite. Boston Bob, though, who stayed on strongly for his four-and-a-half length success, seems more likely to tackle the three miles of the Albert Bartlett Hurdle.
"He'll be entered in both," Mullins said, "but he relished this trip and he'll have no trouble in going further, which he'll probably do in his next run, before Cheltenham."
Mullins was one of those to benefit when Co Durham-based Graham Wylie had to disperse his string after the warning-off in August of Howard Johnson. But however lacking that disgraced former trainer's judgement in some areas, he could talent-spot a horse, having headhunted Boston Bob as a maiden point-to-point winner for what now looks a thoroughly reasonable £150,000.
The Bob Back gelding's technique in the air was slicker yesterday than on his first attempt over hurdles on the same Co Meath track last month. But whatever heights he can reach over the smaller obstacles, he will surely be better over fences in due course.
"He did a piece of work a month ago that we couldn't believe from a big, old-fashioned chasing type," Mullins said, "and we thought if he could reproduce that on the track we'd have a racehorse.
"He's made the necessary improvement from the last day here, jumped a lot better going that bit faster against better horses. But he basically jumps like a chaser and will go the staying novice route."
Another Closutton inmate, Zaidpour, could finish only seventh in his chosen contest at Cheltenham last season but, in retrospect, it may not have been such a bad effort in what has proved a vintage running of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Yesterday, the five-year-old made it two from two this term with a 10-length romp, giving weight to his rivals, in the Grade 2 Tara Hurdle and looks ready for top-level company again.
With the senior staying division seemingly a done deal – the peerless Big Buck's made it 14 in a row at Ascot on Saturday and the 4-6 offered afterwards by sponsors Ladbrokes for the World Hurdle could solve Europe's debt crisis at a stroke – Zaidpour could well step back to the minimum trip. "I think he's starting to do what I thought last year he might do," Mullins said, "and he could have the pace for two miles."
The line between plaudits and an eggy face can be a fine one but Nina Carberry yesterday escaped on the right side – just – on 4-6 favourite Don Cossack in the bumper. It was only in the last half-dozen strides that she reeled in trailblazing 25-1 shot Rory O'Moore, who had freewheeled into a half-furlong lead at one point, to provide some compensation to the Gordon Elliott stable for Mount Benbulben's defeat.
Chris McGrath's Nap: Reblis (2.00 Plumpton)
Notched his first chasing victory only last month and is good enough for a swift follow-up.
Next Best: Oriental Cat (2.10 Bangor)
Floundered on his hurdling debut last term, but this looks a realistic task.
Next Best: Faith should be kept in the potential of Desert Cry (Donald McCain).
Where The Money's Going: Cannington Brook is as short as 12-1 (from 33s) for the Welsh National with Ladbrokes' list.
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