JOSEPH O’Brien and J.J. Slevin enjoyed double Grade 2 delight over the weekend as Home By The Lee supplemented the facile win of Banbridge at Cheltenham the previous day.
Victory in the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan was a triumph for persistence by the impressive Slevin as he spent most of the formative stages of the two-and-a-half-mile contest encouraging his mount just to stay in touch.
However, as the pace slackened exiting the back straight, the seven-year-old was able to attach himself to the leaders before digging deep to thwart the returning Bob Olinger.
The time figure of the feature race reflected the pace slowing before the turn for home as earlier winner Hercule Du Seuil (140+) was faster when adjusted for distance, a statistic which the Mullins runner also confirmed over the final circuit and through the closing stages. The relevant differences were 0.7secs over the circuit and 0.3secs from the third last hurdle.
Since reverting back to the smaller obstacles, Home By The Lee (138+) has undoubtedly progressed as a staying hurdler as he utilised the fitness edge he held on his rivals. It’s clear he also benefits from soft ground as it helps to negate the flat spot he hits during his races.
Looking back at his run in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, on ground I would have described as faster than soft based on my times, he was outpaced twice before finishing strongly.
If granted soft ground at Leopardstown over Christmas he may well prove a stern test for Flooring Porter (128+), who will be looking to build on his reappearance on the way to defending his Cheltenham crown.
Bob Olinger (136) looked to have all angles covered at the second last hurdle although, even before a mistake at the last cost him valuable momentum, the winner was already reducing the deficit. The closing sectionals confirm this, with Home By The Lee covering the ground from the third last hurdle in 44.9secs, compared to the 45.6secs taken by Henry de Bromhead’s gelding. I still need to be convinced Bob Olinger possesses the same ability which saw him successful in the 2021 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. He is due to step up to three miles at Christmas.