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Ferny Hollow returns with Naas success but could sidestep Cheltenham Festival

Ferny Hollow made a triumphant return from over two years on the sidelines with a dominant display in the Newlands Chase at Naas – but appears unlikely to be seen in action at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

It is fast approaching four years since the Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old carried the Cheveley Park Stud colours to success in the Champion Bumper at the showpiece meeting in the Cotswolds and injuries had restricted him to just three subsequent appearances.

He made a winning hurdling debut at Gowran Park the following season, but was then off the track for over a year, and while he made a smooth transition to jumping fences following his comeback with successive wins, including a Grade One at Leopardstown in December 2021, he had not been seen since.

Despite his 791-day absence, Ferny Hollow was a 2-5 favourite for this Grade Three assignment, and in truth odds-on backers will have had few concerns for the duration of the two-mile contest.

Paul Townend’s mount raced exuberantly and jumped neatly in the main and moved ominously into the wing mirrors of the three horses in front of him from the home turn.

Once angled out into clear daylight, the Westerner gelding soon swept to the lead and only had to be pushed out after safely negotiating the final obstacle to seal a comfortable five-and-a-half-length verdict.

Mullins said: “I was happy with him to do that after such a long lay-off. Hopefully, now he stays sound so that we can keep him that way.

Paul Townend celebrates on board Ferny Hollow after victory at Leopardstown
Image: Paul Townend celebrates on board Ferny Hollow after victory at Leopardstown

“He popped over a few hurdles and a few fences yesterday morning and I was happy with him. The conditions of this race suited him a bit better than last week [Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park].

“I think he’s still young enough to put in a career best over fences. He just has to overcome this first run and come back sound and we’ll see where we go.”

Coral cut Ferny Hollow to 8-1 from 12-1 in their non-runner money back market for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, but with that race only 17 days away, Mullins is set to keep his powder dry for the other major festivals in the spring.

“He’s entered in Cheltenham. It may be a big ask on his second run, but we’ll have a look. It may come a bit soon,” he added.

“He settled lovely and even though he’s free going, once you settle him in, he listens and responds to you. We were happy to use those tactics and hoped that if he got around safe and sound that he’d be the fastest horse in the straight, which he was.

“It will be all about how he comes out of the race in the next week, and we’ll probably look for easier options for the time being.”

Sky News
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