Un De Sceaux takes centre stage again at Punchestown
Klassical Dream takes Champion Hurdle while Delta Work cruises to Champion Chase
Paul Townend on his way to winning The BoyleSports Champion Steeplechase onboard Un de Sceaux. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Willie Mullins swept past the €5 million prizemoney mark in Grade One style on the first day of the Punchestown festival as Un De Sceaux once again brooked no argument about being centre-stage.
The-11 year-old veteran scooped the 10th top-flight prize of his remarkable career by landing the €300,000 Boylesports Champion Chase for a second year in a row.
A year after holding off Douvan in the two-mile highlight this time it was his odds-on stable companion Min that had the thankless task of trying to reel in Un De Sceaux.
The 8-13 favourite ultimately came up four lengths short as champion jockey-elect Paul Townend profited from Ruby Walsh picking wrong.
In Walsh’s defence the decision to opt for Min rather than his old ally was one Mullins agreed with as the champion trainer was worried beforehand about ground conditions not being soft enough for Un De Sceaux.
However at the end of a freakishly dry winter came the sort of wet day that left Punchestown feeling more piddling than peerless. By the middle of the card the ground had turned ‘yielding to soft’ and it allowed Un De Sceaux to thrive.
Townend had already tasted Grade One glory on Un De Sceaux although the thrill of riding the famously wilful and free-going star remains intoxicating for even the most experienced jockey.
“He is such a warrior, the way he keeps coming back year after year,” Townend grinned. “I was a bit worried at the start that he was a bit dead in himself. But then we lined up and he came alive underneath me. I was a passenger for three quarters of the way!”
Un De Sceaux was a 166th festival winner in Mullins’s stellar record breaking career but by any standard the French bred appears to retain a singular attitude.
“At 11-years-old, to do what he’s doing is extraordinary, and with that energy. And he goes out with that type of energy every morning. I’ve never had a horse with his enthusiasm – he just loves it,” Mullins said.
It was Un De Sceaux’s 23rd career win from 32 starts and it brought his prizemoney haul to almost €1.75 million for Cork owner, Edward O’Connell.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Klassical Dream had earlier added to his Cheltenham success in the Evening Herald Novice Hurdle.
All of it saw Mullins sweep past €5 million in prizemoney in Ireland this season. He secured almost €1.6 million in Britain as well and is just two shy of the 200-winner mark for the domestic campaign.
It’s already about next season though for Klassical Dream who unlike Min justified 8-13 odds with the minimum of fuss.
If it wasn’t the same freewheeling display he put up in the Supreme it was enough for some firms to cut him to as low as 5-1 for the 2020 Champion Hurdle. More importantly it was also a display to please his trainer.
“Ruby said he was too settled and wasn’t as pleased but I thought in Cheltenham he ran very free. You can’t keep racing like that and I was much happier with today,” Mullins said.
“I’m happy to stay over hurdles and try to make a Champion Hurdle horse out of him. I think he could be good enough,” he added.
Gordon Elliott isn’t preoccupied this week with trying to depose his great rival as champion trainer and he had plenty to enjoy on the opening day of the festival which took place in front of an official crowd of 17,464 – down 1,718 on the corresponding programme a year ago.
Only Jamie Codd’s mount Festival D’ex was able to overhaul the 66-1 outsider Whatsnotoknow in the €100,000 Goffs Land Rover Bumper.
However it was Delta Work’s sauntering dozen length triumph as a 13-8 favourite in the Grade One Dooley Insurance Champion Novice Chase that prodded bookmakers into quotes of as low as 10-1 for next year’s Gold Cup.
It was a third top-flight win of the season for Delta Work whose sole defeat came when third in Cheltenham’s RSA.
“He showed today how good he is. At Cheltenham he never got into a rhythm and nothing really worked. Today he was very, very good and he could be anything,” Elliott said.
The JP McManus-owned Blue Templar made it third time lucky in the opening banks race of the festival, the 11-2 shot beating his owner’s odds-on favourite Youcannotbeserious by almost four lengths. Blue Templar had twice previously been placed in the race.
McManus’s colours also emerged best in the bumper as Front View overcame drifting left in the closing stages to beat Jungle Junction.
Robbie Power guided Pearl Of The West to win the €60,000 handicap hurdle, a first festival winner for trainer John McConnell.