Gordon Elliott was delighted to see his high-class hurdler Zanahiyr enjoy a confidence-boosting victory on his seasonal debut at Punchestown.
It is coming up to two years since the chestnut gelding last got his head in front in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal, although he has since been placed in a string of Grade One events – last season finishing third behind the mighty Constitution Hill in both the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Aintree Hurdle.
Faced with just two rivals, the Paddy Power Hurdle represented a sizeable drop in class for the six-year-old – but with the Charles Byrnes-trained Run For Oscar reverting to the jumping game just 10 days after finishing a a fine third in the Prix du Cadran, his task was not straightforward.
There was nothing to chose between the pair for much of two-and-a-quarter-mile journey and while jockey Philip Byrnes did his best to make race-fitness count by kicking for home rounding the final bend, 10-11 favourite Zanahiyr eventually mastered him under Jack Kennedy and pulled two and a half lengths clear.
Zanahiyr’s stablemate Andy Dufresne was just a neck behind Run For Oscar in third.
Of the winner, Elliott said: “I thought we were very beatable first run back and to be honest I wasn’t going to run him only there was a very small entry. Jack said he had a couple of blows and was delighted with him – he jumped well.
“He was entitled to do it on ratings, but it’s not always that easy. We thought we might get a soft lead but it was an honest gallop and Philip put the gun to our head the whole way.
“I’ll talk to Noel and Valerie (Moran, owners) to see what they think (about plans). There is a lot of prize-money to be picked up in conditions hurdles and he has no Grade One penalty, so he can step back into Grade Twos and Threes.
“I’d say you could see him in anything from two-mile-five back to two miles. You know he’s going to wear his heart on his sleeve and try his best for you.
“The way he jumps a hurdle you would say he would jump a fence, so I wouldn’t rule it out.”
Elliott and Kennedy had earlier successfully combined with Wodhooh (11-10 favourite) in the Paddy Power 3-Y-O Hurdle.
Formerly trained on the Flat by Sir Michael Stoute, the Le Havre filly got the race in the stewards’ room on her hurdling debut at Listowel last month but there was no doubt about it this time as she stretched 24 lengths clear to double her tally.
“She’s a nice mare. We like her, she’ll be better on softer ground and the further she goes,” said Elliott.
“We knew she’d come on from the run in Listowel but I think on softer ground there is another half-stone in her. She’s a very honest filly.
“We’d like to get a bit of black type over hurdles with her now. There is a race in Newbury in the first week in December that she could go for.”