Cheltenham Festival dream fading for lacklustre Laurina as Elfile enters picture

The Cheltenham dream for Laurina appears to be fading this year after another below-par run in third behind stablemate Elfile in the Grade 3 Quevega Mares Hurdle at Punchestown on Wednesday.

Willie Mullins indicated that targets at home may well be more tempting for the 2018 Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle winner, who was beaten favourite for the third race in a row but at least managed an improved performance back over hurdles after two previous pulled-up disappointments in Grade 1 novice chases.

Sent off 11-8, Laurina looked good for a long way and, when she loomed alongside Elfile after the second last, looked likely to pick up and win well for Paul Townend.

However, it did not take long for the distress signals to go out when Elfile found a bit more for Danny Mullins and in the end Laurina was unable to hold off Black Tears, rated 18lb her inferior, for second place.

The return to hurdles, though, did seem to provide some sort of spark, in sharp comparison to her lamentable recent efforts over fences at Leopardstown and Sandown.

Mullins said: “Laurina at least ran a race today. Her training schedule hasn't been easy, it's been very hit and miss, and this race was sort of an afterthought. We saw it there and said we'd let her have a crack at it to see how she'd handle going back over hurdles. Paul was very happy with her for a long way. It was obviously below her best but at least she did better than she did the last twice over fences.”

He added: “This race wasn't a target for her, whereas it was for Elfile. I'll have a chat with connections but Laurina might be better staying over hurdles, she seemed to enjoy herself a lot more. She's in the Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham but there might be easier pickings for her on the home front.”

As for Elfile, the Mares' Hurdle is the plan after her game two-and-a-half-length success from the front. Mullins said: “She's improving and has a future over fences. The longer the trip, the better. She looks like she'll go to the Mares' Hurdle. That's what I'd like to do anyway. It wasn't easy to make all out there today but she did it well.”