Briar Hill to follow Mikael’s footsteps with Navan/Cheltenham double
Willie Mullins has won three out of the last five Navan Novice Hurdles and he can add another victory with Briar Hill.
The exciting five-year-old has won all three of his starts under rules, including the Champion Bumper at last season’s Cheltenham Festival.
On that occasion he came seven lengths of a quality field which included the subsequent Grade Two hurdle winner The Liquidator amongst others.
The son of Shantou was put away after his Prestbury Park success but received the following praise from his jockey after making a successful reappeatance on his hurdling debut at Wexford in November.
Ruby Walsh said: “He jumped super and travelled really well, he did what he had to do.
“It didn’t feel like we went that quick but then again maybe that’s because of the class he is. He is a Cheltenham winner.”
Bet on Briar Hill to win the Neptune at 12/1
The former point-to-point winner was originally bought by owner Graham Wylie for £100,000 at the Doncaster Bloodstock Sales last year.
His dam was an unraced sister to Boston Bob, who Mullins trained to win this race in 2011.
Also in the colours of Wylie, Boston Bob was subsequently second in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Sent off at 6/5, the favourite only found one horse too good for him and Briars Hill is currently 10/1 to go one place better.
Bet on Briar Hill to win the Albert Bartlett at 10/1
However most of Mullins’ winners of the Navan Novice Hurdle have taken part in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle in March.
Mikael D’Haguenet won the Navan contest en-route to winning the Neptune at Cheltenham, whilst last year’s winner Pont Alexandre was second three months after winning at Navan.
The Shantou gelding is currently 12/1 for the 2m5f race, whilst he is also quoted at 10/1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
That looks the most unlikely target at this stage, given he is already stepping up in trip before Christmas.
Bet on Briar Hill to win the Supreme at 10/1
However this afternoon’s race isn’t a mere formality for Mullins’ ace, despite Apache Stronghold’s late defection.
Noel Meade’s runner has been scratched due to an abscess on his foot, however the horse he beat last time, Azorian, does line up.
Jockey Davy Russell has a fine record at Navan and the Westerner gelding lost little in defeat at the track last month.
A natural front-runner, Eoin Griffin’s runner is still improving and is not a horse to take lightly, despite having something to prove on this ground; he has looked more effective on deep ground.
Completing the line-up is the fellow Gigginstown Stud-owned Very Wood.
Meade’s original second-string is no Christmas turkey, having been second in a Grade Three at the track last month.
Since then he has been far from disgraced in the Grade One Royal Bond Hurdle at Fairyhouse, finishing ahead of the horse who had beaten him here, and he has plenty of talent.
However once again the ground may be too quick for him; his wins have come on soft or heavy ground.
Connections will be very surprised if Briar Hill doesn’t win today and the advice would be to back him for both races – the Neptune and the Albert Bartlett – before his price shortens.