Faugheen gets back to his best at Punchestown
Willie Mullins’s former Champion Hurdle winner takes Champion Stayers Hurdle
David Mullins riding Faugheen stretch clear to win the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Faugheen returned to his majestic best with an impressive all-the-way win in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown.
The former Champion Hurdle hero, trained by the red-hot Willie Mullins, relished the big step up in trip by blowing away the opposition in incredible fashion.
Faugheen was allowed an easy lead straight from the start and soon had the field well stretched out. David Mullins was able to dictate his own pace and never looked like running out of steam.
The 10-year-old, owned by Rich Ricci, has had his fair share of problems over the last couple of years, but he looked the force of old as he found another gear when pressed by his stablemate Penhill, who lifted the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Faugheen (11-2) put more daylight between himself and the rest up the straight, as he led home a Mullins one-two-three, with Penhill second and Shaneshill third.
Mullins said: “David said he loved it, absolutely loved it. He probably got a lot of things his own way there today and it may not happen again in the future, but he has a fair engine.
“That victory was something else. It just shows the horse has the heart and I don’t know where he got that from. Maybe we’ll stay three miles or maybe we’ll go chasing with him – I don’t know.
“It’s going to be fun deciding what we are going to do.
“He worked the other morning and this was going to be a last-chance saloon. Ruby [Walsh] was with me on the gallops and we looked at each other and said that’s him gone.
“You always take a chance and run, and just hope on the day maybe good weather and a nice bit of grass underneath will bring him back to life.
“If he had finished down the field today we probably would have said it was time to retire him, but it didn’t happen!
“He always runs well here. I think the only time he was beaten here was when he let Nichols Canyon have a lead one year. He was just fed up going that two-mile gallop, and when he got things his own way here he started to enjoy it.
“He’d be a right novice chaser, but we’ll see what Rich wants to do with him. Three-mile hurdling is very hard on a horse, and do we want to subject him to that on heavy ground?
“I’d rather go novice chasing, as it might be a lot easier.”
Ricci said: “I’m absolutely delighted. It’s been a tough old season for him and for us. It’s just nice to get a change of luck. He seemed to love it today.
“I didn’t want him to disgrace himself and I was wondering what to do with him, maybe go novice chasing with him next season.
“All of a sudden he’s done that today and it’s magic.
“It’s credit to Willie as well. He’s amazing, as is everyone in the yard.
“While Cheltenham may have been disappointing, this makes up for it. This is fantastic and the reception he got here was brilliant. It’s a magic day.”
On what may happen in the future, he said: “We forget he won a three-mile novice hurdle in Limerick all those years ago. It’s just magic. I don’t know what we’ll do with him now. We’ll see how he summers.
“If that’s it, fantastic, but I hope it isn’t.”
Auvergnat narrowly outpointed stablemate Josies Orders to provide Enda Bolger with a 14th success in the La Touche Cup at Punchestown.
The popular trainer saddled the Sean Connery-owned Risk Of Thunder to claim the prestigious cross-country chase on seven occasions and has since struck gold with the likes of Garde Champetre, L’Ami, Spot Thedifference and Quantitativeeasing.
He sent four horses into battle this year and it turned into a straight fight between the top two in the betting.
There was little to choose between the JP McManus-owned pair as the post loomed and they flashed by almost as one.
The judge soon confirmed that at the end of almost four and a quarter miles, 11-4 chance Auvergnat and Donal McInerney had beaten Nina Carberry-ridden 5-2 favourite Josies Orders by a neck.
Ballyboker Bridge was best of the rest in third.
Bolger said: “It was close and hard luck on Nina, but both horses ran their hearts out. Auvergnat was our fancy because he’d run at Cheltenham and he’s only eight and an up-and-coming horse. I must say he got a great ride from Donie as well.
“It’s great for the race that it was a tight finish and exciting.
“My Hometown [long-time leader before falling] is my hunter and may be back on Saturday. He was enjoying it in front and if he’s okay we might pull him out again.”
There was, however, a sad postcript with the Bolger-trained 13-year-old Cantlow, who finished fifth, collapsing and dying when returning to the stables after the race.
Gordon Elliott struck first blood on day three of the Punchestown Festival when Park Paddocks justified market support in the JLT Handicap Hurdle.
The Co Meath handler, who began the day trailing Mullins in the race to be champion trainer, cut the deficit when the 6-1 favourite obliged in a competitive 25-runner contest.
Jack Kennedy sent the four-year-old into the lead between the last two flights but was soon challenged by Neverushacon, who looked a big danger.
However, Park Paddocks found extra on the flat to go on and score by two and a half lengths.
“Jack gave him a good ride, and he jumped well. He’ll probably go chasing over the summer and use the four-year-old allowance,” said Elliott.
“He’s a horse that might even go back to the Flat at some stage.”
Elliott vowed to enjoy the rest of the meeting despite the amazing turnaround in the trainers’ championship following Mullins’s six-timer on Wednesday.
He said: “It’s racing, and you have to smile and keep your head up. Willie is an amazing man and it just goes to show what he can do.
“If you give up in this game you’re in trouble. We are on the back foot and we’ll enjoy the rest of the week whatever happens.”
Mullins struck straight back when Cadmium stormed home in the Pigsback.com Handicap Chase.
The two-mile contest was run at a helter-skelter pace from flag fall with several horses falling by the wayside.
Nigel Hawke’s Speredek made his bid for glory when pushing on from four out, but the British raider was run out of it in the closing stages.
Danny Mullins delivered Cadmium (12-1) with a beautifully-timed run and the six-year-old bounded clear to win by eight lengths from Coeur Joyeux, with Bon Papa next to give Mullins the first and third.
The winning trainer said: “He was very good, and obviously learned over his last few runs.
“Danny got a fantastic tune out of him. I’m very pleased for him and for the Supreme Horse Racing Club [owners].
“He’ll probably stay at this job on good ground and do all the festivals.”