Catch Me denies Inca and Eustace
Racing - Fairyhouse: Catch Me (7-4 favourite) won a thrilling renewal of the Bar One Racing Hatton's Grace Hurdle after a pulsating battle with Brave Inca and Hardy Eustace at Fairyhouse this afternoon.
The two old warriors set a steady pace throughout and looked to have it between them in the straight before Andrew McNamara moved up ominously on Catch Me.
Hardy Eustace began to tire after the second-last, leaving Brave Inca - who had been off the track for 584 days - in front.
However, Edward O'Grady's charge, four years younger than Brave Inca as a six-year-old, just wore down the 2006 champion to win by one-and-a-half lengths.
The winner remains a 20-1 chance for the World Hurdle with Victor Chandler and was introduced at the same price for the Champion Hurdle. Brave Inca is 25/1 for the World Hurdle.
O'Grady said: "He was unlucky not to win three Grade Ones as a novice and we always thought he was a hell of a tough horse.
"The Boyne Hurdle at Navan is an option as well as a couple of options at Leopardstown over Christmas
"He could go back to two miles or we could try three miles again to help make up my mind if he stays.
"He is a different horse this year and his jumping much better, the fact I've schooled him over fences has obviously stood him in good stead."
Colm Murphy was understandably delighted with the returning Brave Inca.
"He did all we could have asked of him. He travelled and jumped and it is hard to believe that was his first run back," he said.
"We'll head for the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown and see where we go from there and if he improves as much as I think he will then he is really something to look forward to.
"Ruby (Walsh) rang me after the stayers' hurdle at Punchestown and said he definitely does stay."
Hurricane Fly justified 2-1 his favourites tag in the Bar One Racing Royal Bond Novice Hurdle but he was made to fight all the way by Donnas Palm.
The French import put his tall home reputation on the line and Willie Mullins' four-year-old did not let his supporters down.
The win continues the great recent run for young jockey Paul Townend, who was riding the first Grade One winner of his career.
Cousin Vinny, stablemate of the winner, set a pedestrian early gallop, so much so that all eight runners were on the bridle turning into the straight.
By the second last it only concerned three though, with Cousin Vinny just beginning to weaken on his hurdling debut. Barry Geraghty threw everything at Donnas Palm but Hurricane Fly just possessed too much speed and won by a neck.
Blue Square gave Hurricane Fly an 8-1 (from 12-1) quote for the Ballymore Properties Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, with Cousin Vinny unchanged at 5-1 for the Supreme Novices'.
Mullins said: "I'm absolutely delighted with that. Paul gave him a super ride in a difficult race tactically as nobody wanted to make it.
"Patrick (Mullins) decided to jump off in front on Cousin Vinny and I'm absolutely delighted with him also. The most I will take out of the race is the way Cousin Vinny jumped and ran and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season with both horses.
"We'll look at the Future Champion Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas for Hurricane Fly. Cousin Vinny can go anywhere and I'll even have a look at some English races for him, but I don't like travelling horses until March. He will stay further and I don't mind stepping him up in trip."
Noel Meade was delighted with Donnas Palm. "He ran a cracker for his second start over hurdles. He jumped well, although a faster gallop would have suited him better. We'll look at the Future Champion Novice Hurdle although I'm sure we'll meet the winner again there."
Trafford Lad (5-2) maintained his unbeaten record over fences with an authoritative display in the Bar One Racing Drinmore Novice Chase.
He was awarded his first race over fences in the stewards' room but there was no need for them to intervene today as Tom Doyle kicked on turning into the straight with only Forpadydeplasterer for company.
Two good leaps over the final two fences sealed the prize and the winner has now won at the highest level over both hurdles and fences.
Forpadydeplasterer looked a tired horse in second and was five and a half lengths away at the post.
Rare Bob, demoted in Trafford Lad's first race over fences, showed that performance was no fluke with a big run in third, while the 2-1 favourite Tranquil Sea was very disappointing.