Petit Mouchoir claims Irish Champion Hurdle glory

Victory completes a De Bromhead Grade One double after surprise victory for Some Plan

 

If Sunday began with Roger Federer defying preparatory convention in a stunning Australian Open success it wound up at Leopardstown with Faugheen an even stronger favourite to do the same at Cheltenham in six weeks time.

In the absence of Willie Mullins’s superstar from the BHP Irish Champion Hurdle, Petit Mouchoir duly landed 9-10 odds to complete a Grade One double on the day for his trainer Henry De Bromhead who had earlier scored in a dramatic Frank Ward Arkle Trophy with the sole finisher, Some Plan.

De Bromhead is enjoying the best season of his career and Petit Mouchoir and Some Plan were adding to an impressive Thyestes success on Thursday by Champagne West which has earned him a slot in a Gold Cup opened up again by Thistlecrack’s weekend defeat.

With a slight muscle problem preventing Faugheen from lining up, the route was open for Petit Mouchoir to put his stamp on the Cheltenham betting but after dominating throughout the grey ultimately had just a length to spare over the 12-1 outsider of the four-runner field, Footpad.

Petit Mouchoir’s apparent main rival Nichols Canyon had crashed out at the last and the overall impression was apparently underwhelming enough to have some bookmakers lengthen the winner to 6-1 for the Cheltenham feature with Faugheen cut slightly to 7-4.

Just two horses have ever regained the Champion Hurdle crown at Cheltenham and if Faugheen is to emulate his former stable companion Hurricane Fly he will have to do so having not run in almost 14 months – Federer at least had a handful of warm-up matches before his Grand-Slam miracle!

Nevertheless Mullins has confirmed the 2015 hero will go straight to Cheltenham and Faugheen’s owner, Rich Ricci, indicated the late muscle problem which ruled the horse out of Sunday’s race is minor.

Main thing

It’s a struggle though to recall when, if ever, the Champion Hurdle has been won by a horse making his first start of the season.

Even the famously delicate See You Then – who raced so rarely during his three in a row between 1985 and 1987 that he wound up nicknamed ‘See You When’ – ran once before his final two Cheltenham victories.

However on a day when black armbands were worn by all the jockeys at Leopardstown in memory of 20-year-old point to point rider John O’Connor who was killed in a car crash in Co Cork on Saturday, there was poignant perspective to such racing considerations.

Prior to winning on Petit Mouchoir, David Mullins had deserted Some Plan for Identity Thief in the Arkle and wound up unseated at the first fence: the 20-year-old Grand National-winning jockey, who won on Champagne West on Thursday, picked himself up to win just his second Grade One.

”It’s been a great week and thankfully he did the job after what happened before,” Mullins said. “He has such a cruising speed you never feel like you’re under pressure on him.”

However if Petit Mouchoir hardly won with an authority similar to De Bromhead’s previous winner of the race, Sizing Europe in 2008, that was as irrelevant to the Co Waterford trainer as any bookmaker odds for Cheltenham.

“That’s their business and it doesn’t concern me,” he said. “He’s actually a little similar to Sizing Europe in that they both have a great cruising speed and his jumping has got really good.”

The last

Some Plan had looked a fortunate winner but, famously, the name of the game is jumping and Davy Russell’s mount was the only one who did that.

His stable companion, Identity Thief was the first to go. The favourite Bleu Et Rouge lost Barry Geraghty at the third and with Royal Caviar apparently getting the better in what had turned into a match, Ruby Walsh’s mount fell at the last.

”I saw David fall at the first but I didn’t know Barry had gone. I thought it was between myself and Ruby then,” Russell reported. “ Ruby was going well and seemed to have plenty of horse under him. They’re all a bonus.”

De Bromhead immediately nominated Cheltenham’s Arkle for the winner and didn’t rule out running Identity Thief in the same race despite his latest mishap. He also confirmed the Gold Cup is under consideration for the transformed Thyestes winner, Champagne West.

“We would want a bit of ease in the ground for him,” he said. “The handicapper has put him up 12lbs to 166 so he is one of the top rated staying chasers in Ireland now.”

And as Cheltenham preparations go, ending the week with genuine contenders for both the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle takes some topping.

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