Wicklow Brave holds out to win Champion Hurdle
Willie Mullins sent four runners to post for the Grade One contest and had first and third
Wicklow Brave ridden by Jockey Patrick Mullins clears the fence on his way to winning the Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle during day four of the Punchestown Festival. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Willie Mullins secured his seventh victory in the last eight runnings of the Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle as Classic hero Wicklow Brave struck gold in the hands of his son, Patrick.
The champion trainer sent five runners to post for the Grade One feature, although that number was reduced by one after Diakali was withdrawn at the start.
While his stablemates Vroum Vroum Mag (6-4 favourite) and Arctic Fire (9-2) were the first two in the betting, Wicklow Brave was a 12-1 shot, but never looked back after taking over the lead from Identity Thief in the back straight.
Last year’s Irish St Leger winner turned for home with a healthy advantage and although My Tent Or Yours and Arctic Fire closed the gap after the final flight, Wicklow Brave was not for catching and Patrick Mullins punched the air as they passed the post a length and a half to the good.
Mullins junior said: “I didn’t think we were going a mad gallop and I said I’d take a chance and just let him enjoy himself.
“He’s always threatened to do this. I rode him here one day and he was third behind Faugheen and Nichols Canyon.
“It’s a massive thrill and I’m very grateful to everyone involved.
“It’s nice to ride a Classic winner over hurdles!”
The winning trainer said: “I’m just delighted for Patrick, and to win that means so much to me.
“The horse took off and Patrick had enough sense to let him off. For an amateur rider to do that is something special, and for his size I don’t know how he does the weight.
“Our plan was to put the horse back on the Flat and he is in a race at York. We decided that he was needed more here.”
Nicky Henderson’s admirable veteran My Tent Or Yours was second yet again, with Arctic Fire’s third-placed finish providing Mullins with a further boost in his battle with Gordon Elliott for the trainer’s title.
The father-son combination went on to complete a big-race double as Bacardys (10-1) got up late in the day to land the Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle, meaning Mullins will head into the final day of the season with a significant lead over Elliott.
Henderson was understandably proud of My Tent Or Yours, who had already finished second in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham for a third time and finished second in the Aintree Hurdle this spring.
“You’d have to say he deserves one, but he’s run another fantastic race,” said the Seven Barrows handler.
“He’s going straight on down to Martinstown now and has his holiday there, which he loves.
“He’s amazing as three Festivals is very hard to do, especially with an old boy like that. We’ve had to mind him the last few days, but since he’s been over here he’s started squealing again.
“He’s been a legend throughout his life, but to run three races like he has is great.”
The Elliott-trained Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Labaik was back in action just three days after failing to start in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle.
The Mullins first string, Vroum Vroum Mag, was well-beaten.