Meri Devie booked her Cheltenham ticket when bouncing back to form to claim top honours in the Quevega Mares Hurdle at Punchestown.
A smart juvenile last term, Willie Mullins’ five-year-old has been a bit inconsistent this campaign and was behind the reopposing Alletrix when Jessica Harrington’s charge won a handicap at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Meri Devie was a massive 21lb better off in this Listed contest so it was no surprise that she was sent off the 5-4 favourite, and she moved ahead of long-time leader Alighting at the fourth-last.
She was headed by Alletrix two out but it was only briefly, with David Mullins asking the question shortly afterwards, and she shot away again to pass the post and win by five lengths.
Mullins said: “I thought she was well-in there and she jumped well. She got a nice lead the whole way and when push came to shove she produced the little bit of class that we think she might have.
“We’re very happy with that and can look forward to bringing her over [to Cheltenham] for the Mares’ Hurdle. Two and a half miles is no problem to her, and as the season goes on she can go up in trip.”
Mullins had earlier struck with another mare when Cut The Mustard took the I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Maiden Hurdle.
He said of the 3-1 chance: “The extra half-mile made a difference and it was an improved round of jumping, although her jumping is still not right. She’s a nice improving mare who will be staying at home and could go to Fairyhouse.”
Meanwhile Our Duke has the Boylesports Irish Grand National “very much on his radar” after his trip to Cheltenham next month.
Jessica Harrington’s charge won the race in great style as a novice last season and got back to winning ways at the weekend in the Red Mills Chase.
That booked his ticket for a crack at the Timico Gold Cup next month, but should he come back from that in fine form, Harrington is open to the idea of him carrying top weight at Fairyhouse on April 2nd, for which 97 were entered.
“He has come out of Saturday’s race at Gowran Park in great shape and while the Cheltenham Gold Cup is the immediate target, the BoyleSports Irish Grand National is very much on the radar,” said Harrington.
“His owners, the Cooper Family Syndicate, had the day of their lives at Fairyhouse last Easter Monday and will never forget the rapturous reception he received.”
One of his owners, Sloan Cooper, said: “Depending on how he gets on at Cheltenham, his next run after that could be the Irish National or Punchestown. We would favour going back for the Irish National, but it will depend on how he gets on at Cheltenham and how he comes out of the race.”
Irish Gold Cup first and second Edwulf (11st 8lb) and Outlander (11st 7lb) are towards the top of the weights, along with Tony Martin’s Anibale Fly (11st 3lb).
Gordon Elliott has yet to win the race but has entered an incredible 30 horses, with Willie Mullins responsible for 18.
Bachasson (11st 3lb) and Total Recall (11st) are among Mullins’ team, while Elliott can call on the likes of Mala Beach (11st) and Monbeg Notorious (10st 10lb).
Harry Fry’s American (11st 1lb), Pat Fahey’s Morning Assembly (10st 1lb) and Pat Kelly’s Mall Dini (10st 1lb) are others of note.