sport

Apache targets Navan scalps

Apache Stronghold clashes with Champion Bumper hero Briar Hill in what promises to be a hugely informative Navan Novice Hurdle on Sunday.

Third behind The Liquidator in the Grade One bumper at the Punchestown Festival in the spring, the Noel Meade-trained Apache Stronghold scraped home on his hurdling debut at the same track in mid-October.

However, he was far more impressive when landing the Monksfield Novice Hurdle over this weekend's course and distance and he now steps back up to the highest level for a race Meade won with Aran Concerto seven years ago.

The trainer said: "All has gone well since the last day. We couldn't be happier with him at home. We all know Briar Hill is a very good horse, we saw what he did in Cheltenham, and he's going to be hard to beat whatever way you look at it, but you don't get these Grade Ones given and we'll give it a go.

"Our horse likes the track and the ground should be fine, so we'll see what happens."

Meade has also declared Very Wood, the mount of Bryan Cooper.

Since his win at the Cheltenham Festival in the spring, the Willie Mullins-trained Briar Hill has made just one appearance - streaking clear as a 1/9 favourite in a moderate maiden hurdle at Wexford.

Mullins admits his charge faces a far more exacting task, but is hopeful he will be up to the task.

"It's a tough race and Apache Stronghold and Azorian have more experience than our horse, so he's going to have to kick up a gear to go with those," said Mullins.

"The evidence of his bumper form tells you he has a great chance of getting into the race, provided his jumping stands up to the test. His pedigree and the way he did things in Cheltenham tells you two and a half miles shouldn't be any problem for him."

The quartet is completed by Eoin Griffin's Azorian, who was runner-up behind Apache Stronghold at the track three weeks ago.

Griffin said: "With Apache Stronghold and Briar Hill in there, you would have to say he's up against it, but he's in good form and we're happy to let him take his chance.

"He'd have his work cut out to turn the tables with Apache Stronghold on their last run and then you throw the Cheltenham bumper winner in for good measure, so we're under no illusions. He faces a tough task.

"There is a bit of rain forecast, which will be a help to him and maybe he can improve a bit on the last day, as he was a bit green. We'll certainly know where we stand after Sunday and we can tailor the season to suit him then."