- Horse Racing
Zaidpour elevates hopes of Big Buck's showdown
Zaidpour claimed the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday to increase expectations of a showdown with Big Buck's at Cheltenham next year.
The six-year-old, the joint favourite for the race, ran strongly throughout to claim the victory - edging Monksland and disappointing co-favourite Voler La Vedette at the end.
At one point Monksland looked to have the edge when Zaidpour got stuck on the rails, but once manoveured into position by Ruby Walsh there was only going to be one winner.
It was the second Grade One victory for the Willie Mullins-trained horse, having also won this event back in 2010.
The son of Red Ransom was subsequently tipped to contend at next year's World Hurdle at Cheltenham, where Big Buck's is expected to be the class of the field.
"I think he's improved so we'll go along those lines," Mullin said. "I doubt he'll take on Hurricane Fly next but he'll be entered in all those races. He has enough speed for two miles, but he has plenty of stamina too."
Mullins and Walsh were also celebrating success in the Drinmore Novice Chase, as Arvika Ligeonniere produced a memorable display to take the spoils.
The seven-year-old was something of an unknown force heading into the two-and-a-half miler, but jockey Walsh pushed a strong pace throughout that quickly separated out the field. In the end Ligeonniere's stamina bore out, with Dedigout and Texas Jack completing the places many strides behind.
"He was a bit keen and took me on, he went some gallop - he was just relentless and I'd have no worries going back in trip with him," Walsh said. "He's got plenty of pace and attacks his fences. He's a great jumper and is a horse that has always had a big engine, he's just been difficult to train but the lads have done a great job with him."
In the day's other Grade One race, four-year-old Jezki denied Mullins a clean sweep with a third successive win.
Jessica Harrington's charge was not favoured over Mullins' Champagne Fever ahead of the start, despite the illustrious recent record, but pulled level with the leader at the last fence and showed better closing speed to continue his recent unbeaten record under Barry Geraghty.
"He was very good, although I think he is better than that," Geraghty said. "There's a lot to like about him."
Champagne Fever ultimately had to settle for second, with Zuzka completing the podium.