Briar battles for Slaney win
Briar Hill was made to work hard to keep his unbeaten record under Rules intact in the Grade Two Slaney Novice Hurdle at Naas.
Last season's Champion Bumper hero made short work of inferior rivals on his hurdling debut at Wexford in November and eventually asserted his authority over just one rival in last month's Navan Novice Hurdle.
He had to carry a Grade One penalty in the two-and-a-half-mile Slaney, but was still a 1-3 favourite to beat two opponents.
Apache Jack took the trio along at a good gallop and odds-on backers would have been sweating as Ruby Walsh asked Briar Hill to close the gap rounding the home turn.
He eventually drew alongside, however, and despite not jumping the final flight all that fluently, he dug deep to get the job done.
Apache Jack held on for second from Very Wood.
Paddy Power left Briar Hill unchanged at 12-1 for both the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
He remains a 7-1 shot for the longer Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle over three miles.
Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins suggested it is unlikely Briar Hill will go back in trip for the Supreme, making a straight choice at Cheltenham between the Neptune and the Albert Bartlett.
Mullins said: "He's improving all the time. It was a nice performance giving weight away against two good horses, and that probably wouldn't be his preferred ground.
"I imagine I might give him another run before Cheltenham - we'll see, though, as I haven't anything in mind.
"He's lazy, and Ruby said the minute he passed the winning post he dropped it (the bridle) - he only does enough all the time.
"He jumped well and hopefully he will keep improving.
"He's bred to get a trip, but he seems to have plenty of speed on better ground.
"He'll get an entry in the three races at Cheltenham, but I imagine we'll look at the Neptune or the Albert Bartlett, depending on what other runners we have."