Kitten keeps Champion dream alive
Kitten Rock took full advantage of a mistake at the last by Glens Melody to win the Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas.
Trained by Edward O'Grady, Kitten Rock was looking for a hat-trick after wins at Naas and Limerick this season had encouraged connections to think of a Champion Hurdle tilt, but he looked to have a fight on his hands as the two main market rivals raced towards the last flight.
They took off virtually together, but Willie Mullins' mare pecked on landing and lost valuable momentum, allowing the JP McManus-owned Kitten Rock to forge clear, and the 4-7 favourite held the advantage by three and three-quarter lengths at the line in the hands of Mark Walsh.
O'Grady said: "As a four-year-old, and going into a five-year-old, he's been difficult to place.
"We have tried to stay under the radar as much as possible, and the plan has gone well so far. He'll go next for the Red Mills (Gowran, February 14).
"He jumped brilliantly, which he did also at Limerick, and it was nice to see a gap of 18 lengths back to King Of The Picts in third. The mare (Glens Melody) is good, so the form stacks up well.
"I'd be very hopeful that going back to two miles with a faster pace will suit him."
Walsh completed a double in the McManus colours when A Grey Matter (5-2) boxed on well to land the Follow Naas On Facebook Handicap Hurdle for Martin Brassil.
The trainer said: "Most of his promising runs were around Naas last year, but I wasn't sure about the ground. He's improved from his run at Leopardstown, and has taken a while to learn his trade. He'll make a grand chaser in time."
Social Riser got off the mark at the third attempt over timber with an all-the-way success in the Book Hospitality On Line Maiden Hurdle.
Mikey Fogarty opened up a huge lead on the back straight, and though that advantage was diminishing by the last, Ken Condon's 5-2 chance kept on well to repel I'll Be Your Clown by five lengths.
Johnny Burke's persistence on Kilmurry Kid (4-1) paid dividends when he eventually got the measure of Heavenly Brook in the Cheltenham Trial Day 22nd February Handicap Chase.