Ebaziyan on form to grab festival spot
Ebaziyan will return to the scene of his finest hour for a crack at the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle following his return to winning form under Ruby Walsh at Leopardstown.
The 2007 Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner made the journey to Cheltenham last March to finish 12th in the hurdling championship, and William Hill quote him at 100-1 to claim hot-favourite Binocular's scalp this time around.
The Willie Mullins-trained grey has been out of sorts for a long while but displayed renewed enthusiasm in the Ballsbridge Hurdle when seeing off his three rivals with an eight-length blitz as the 8-11 favourite.
Mullins said: "I am not sure he jumps well enough to be competitive in the Champion Hurdle but we know he likes the track so he will take up his entry.
"I am keen to go back on the Flat with him this summer, but he will go to Cheltenham first."
Mullins clocked up his 100th winner of the Irish National Hunt season as 11-10 favourite Deutschland made a successful return to fences in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Novice Chase.
"Last year we had quantity but this year we have quality and I think that is just the second time we have had 100 winners in a season," commented Mullins.
Of the winner, he added: "He deserves that and I'll try to win another with him before going on to the end-of-season festivals."
Mullins had earlier moved onto the 99-winner mark as Serpentaria made a successful, if slightly late, seasonal bow as 2-1 favourite in the leopardstown.com Handicap Hurdle.
The champion trainer added: "She has improved a fair bit since last season and we will head for Fairyhouse and Punchestown with her."
Another horse who could head to Cheltenham in a little over a week is Dessie Hughes' Shirley Casper, who took the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden Hurdle.
The mare finished fourth in the 2007 Cheltenham Bumper and the 2-1 chance got off the mark over timber under Barry Geraghty.
Hughes said: "She wants good ground and has been stuck in the mud the last couple of times at Naas and also here.
"I'd like to travel her and hopefully we can take her to the mares' race at Cheltenham."
With Paul Carberry sidelined after a fall on Saturday, Noel Meade turned to Ross Geraghty and provided the rider with a winning mount aboard Island Life in the Mick Holly Memorial Handicap Chase.
The pair captured the Irish National together in 2002 with The Bunny Boiler and again formed a fruitful partnership as Geraghty
drove the 16-1 chance across the line with a head advantage in a stirring finish.
Meade said: "I gave him some shout up the run-in and Ross gave him a fair drive to the line.
"The horse lost his form but has started to bubble again at home and there is a two-mile-five-furlong chase at Punchestown that he will probably end up running in."
Mask Of Darkness overcame trouble in running to reward smart money in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden Hurdle.
Charles Byrnes' six-year-old opened at 10-1 in the betting ring and was backed down to 4-1 as the starter released the tape.
Paddy Flood was shuffled back rounding the final turn but the runners in front fanned out and Mask Of Darkness ran as straight as a gun barrel down the run-in to collect by a length and a half.
Byrnes said: "There are no ambitious plans but he may have one more run this season at Fairyhouse or Punchestown and then go chasing next year."
Benny Walsh rode the runner-up, Ocean Cowboy, and was suspended for a total of nine days for causing the scrimmaging turning for home.
Dermot Weld's Universal Truth justified his position as even-money favourite as he powered away with the closing Leopardstown Aertel Page 277 INH Flat Race.