Dual Cheltenham Festival winner Sir Gerhard made a successful transition to the larger obstacles on his belated reappearance at Gowran Park.
Winner of the Champion Bumper in 2021 and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle last term, the Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old’s seasonal return was delayed by a pre-Christmas injury.
Faced with just two rivals, Sir Gerhard was the 1-6 favourite for his comeback in the Daly Farrell Chartered Accountants Beginners Chase – and while he ultimately got the job done with ease, his first start over fences since his point-to-point days was not without the odd scare.
Largy Debut cut out much of the running at a sound gallop under Rachael Blackmore, with Paul Townend happy to take a lead aboard the market leader.
His supporters would have had their hearts in their mouths when he made a mess of the fence in front of the stands with a circuit to go, but he improved in the jumping department from there on and mastered Largy Debut from the home turn.
Sir Gerhard brushed through the second fence from the finish, but was safe at the last and passed the post with 38 lengths in hand.
Paddy Power left the winner’s Arkle odds unchanged at 10-1, while he is a 6-1 shot with Coral for the two-and-a-half-mile Turners Novices’ Chase and 10-1 for the even longer Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.
Of Sir Gerhard’s shuddering mistake, Mullins said: “My heart jumped and he stood so far back at it. I hope his back is all right in the morning as he caught it and did well to stand up and Paul did well to stay on him. That is what novices do and it is great to make that mistake early in the race as it puts manners on the horse and he jumped fine after that.
“Paul thought he wasn’t racing, so after the fourth-last sent him up and he was in his hands. He had just been a bit lazy and maybe cantering around on his own on our gallop, he probably thought he was having a quiet day. We teach them, especially the staying chasers, to settle on the mornings they’re not working but we were probably overdoing it.
“I imagine he will go to Cheltenham with very little experience and maybe just that run as I don’t see anything else in the calendar for him. We might take our chance and go straight there, maybe for the Turners or the Brown Advisory – they’ll be going that bit slower and it’ll give him a chance.
“We’re not that well represented in the three-mile race [Brown Advisory] yet, but who knows what’ll happen between now and then?”