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Boyne Hurdle: Blazing Khal storms to top of Stayers' Hurdle market at Cheltenham Festival after winning return at Navan

Blazing Khal (5/1) beat Meet And Greet and Beacon Edge to win Grade Two William Hill Boyne Hurdle at Navan on Sunday; winner cut to 5/2 joint-favourite for the Stayers' Hurdle next month at the Cheltenham Festival

Blazing Khal and Philip Byrnes race away from the final hurdle to win for trainer Charles Byrnes
Image: Blazing Khal and Philip Byrnes race away from the final hurdle to win for trainer Charles Byrnes

Blazing Khal moved to the head of ante-post lists for the Stayers' Hurdle after making a successful return from a lengthy absence in the William Hill Boyne Hurdle at Navan.

The Charles Byrnes-trained seven-year-old won a couple of Grade Two novice events at Cheltenham in the autumn of 2021, but a subsequent injury kept him off the track for 428 days.

Byrnes suggested early in the new year his stable star was "50-50 at best" to make this year's Cheltenham Festival - but having been pleased with his subsequent progress, he allowed him to make his comeback in Grade Two company at Navan.

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Under a patient ride from the trainer's son Philip Byrnes, the seven-year-old moved smoothly into contention from the home turn and shook off any rustiness to pull three lengths clear of the gallant Meet And Greet. Even-money favourite Saint Sam was a little disappointing in fifth.

Stayers' Hurdle sponsors Paddy Power make Blazing Khal a 5/2 joint-favourite for the three-mile hurdling showpiece, along with Teahupoo. Coral cut the winner's odds to 3/1 from 5/1.

Byrnes said: "It's relief really with the young fella riding him and all. I thought he gave him a lovely ride and he settled grand for him.

"He's definitely a very good horse. He was working well and doing a lot of work over the last few weeks. We did expect a big run, he was fairly straight.

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"With him it's day by day, but naturally we'll be thinking of Cheltenham, of course. We've had so many false dawns with him. It's just been little, niggly problems.

"The timing is not too bad, I suppose. We would have preferred to have him out before now, but it is what it is. We can go to Aintree if we don't make Cheltenham."

He added: "He was fairly fit today but naturally with race fitness you'd hope he'd come on again.

"You always have the bounce factor and ideally you'd want a second run, but it is what it is and we're delighted to get him back."

Watch the latest Off The Fence episode!
Watch the latest Off The Fence episode!

After Galopin Des Champs, State Man, El Fabiolo, Mighty Potter and more showed off their Cheltenham credentials, Barry Geraghty, Tony Keenan and Vanessa Ryle look ahead to the Festival.

'A National horse in time' - Churchstonewarrior wins Ten Up

Churchstonewarrior secured a deserved first victory over fences with a determined display in the William Hill Ten Up Novice Chase.

Jonathan Sweeney's stable star has a bumper success and two wins over hurdles to his credit, but had to make do with the runner-up spot in his first three chase starts - most recently coming home behind Gaillard Du Mesnil in a Grade One at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Easing in class for this three-mile Grade Two, Churchstonewarrior was a 9/4 chance in the hands of Aidan Coleman, with John McConnell's recent course-and-distance winner Mahler Mission the 5/4 favourite.

In the end it came down to a fight between the front two in the market, with Churchstonewarrior digging deep to get the better of Mahler Mission by three-quarters of a length.

Flanking Maneuver travelled strongly for a long way on his first competitive appearance in over two years and connections will undoubtedly be delighted with his performance in finishing a close-up third.

"That's great, he was good. Aidan was very happy with him and said he jumped well," Sweeney of the winner. "I'll talk to the lads now and see, but he's in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham. We'll get over today and see how he is tomorrow.

"He's developing away and improving all the time. I'd imagine he could be a National horse in time.

"I'm delighted for the owners, they are a great bunch of lads. They were getting a fair bit of money for him last year. He was vetted and was going, Tom (Hegarty) rang me one evening and asked what I thought and I said 'I'd have to sell him if he was mine' but they kept him anyway, which was great."

Hunters Yarn enters Supreme picture

Hunters Yarn and Paul Townend pull clear of American Mike at Navan
Image: Hunters Yarn and Paul Townend pull clear of American Mike at Navan

Hunters Yarn further strengthened Willie Mullins' potential hand for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham next month with an authoritative victory in Listed company.

The most successful trainer in Festival history already houses the ante-post favourite for the traditional curtain-raiser in Facile Vega, while his Leopardstown conqueror of last weekend Il Etait Temps and Impaire Et Passe are other high-class operators in the mix for the Closutton handler.

Three-time bumper winner Hunters Yarn was beaten at odds-on in his first two hurdle races, but made it third time lucky with an impressive display at Naas last month to earn himself a step up in grade.

American Mike, runner-up to Facile Vega in last season's Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, was the 11/8 favourite to bounce back from a below-par effort at the track in the autumn, with Hunters Yarn a 3/1 shot in the hands of Paul Townend.

American Mike cut out much of the running in the I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Novice Hurdle, but was unable to resist the strong-travelling Hunters Yarn, who ultimately won comfortably by six lengths, with Imagine staying on for second and Inothewayurthinkin pipping American Mike to third.

Paddy Power reacted by cutting Hunters Yarn to 8/1 from 25s for the Supreme in their non-runner no bet market, while Coral offer 16s from 33/1 ante-post.

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