Hurricane Fly landed a twelfth Grade 1 success and crowned a great day for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh when winning the Dobbins & Madigans Morgiana Hurdle in Punchestown yesterday.
But the three-runner highlight of a superb card turned into an anti-climax as the 2/5 favourite was left clear when market rival Go Native, challenging strongly, took a crashing fall at the last, leaving Hurricane Fly to coast home twelve lengths clear of Captain Cee Bee.
Ruby Walsh dictated the pace on eight-year-old Hurricane Fly, whose only defeat at Punchestown came in this race three years ago, and, from the second last, the 2011 champion kept quickening, tracked all the time by Go Native, with Paul Carberry ready to press the button.
There was a less than a length between as they rose at the last. Hurricane Fly jumped fast and low and landed running. But his rival crashed, leaving onlookers wondering what would have happened. Ruby Walsh quipped: “I got a flyer at the last, but who knows ?”
Willie Mullins was upbeat about Hurricane Fly’s performance and well-being: “We knew there would be no pace and Ruby was happy to make the running. The horse seems stronger this year and, as he gets older, he’s settling better. I was never happy with him last season. But he seems a different horse this year. Hopefully he’ll improve from today.”
Mullins added: “We’ll follow the usual path with him — we’ll look at Leopardstown at Christmas before the Irish Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham before coming back here for the Festival.”
Most firms left Hurricane Fly unchanged for the 2013 Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
It was a momentous day for champion trainer Mullins, who enjoyed a treble at Punchestown, is addition to a double in Cork.
Twinlight completed a fine hat-trick over fences when getting the better of Baily Green in an absorbing battle for the Grade 2 AGK Displays Craddockstown, the pair dominating the race from flagfall and helped by the crashing fall of odds-on favourite Oscars Well at the second.
Baily Green, a prolific winner over the summer months, edged ahead narrowly on the run-in before Ruby galvanised Twinlght to score by a length.
Mullins commented: “He has his own method of jumping but he’s gaining in confidence and Ruby is getting to know him. He loves that ground and he’s fit and tough.”
Middle leg of the Mullins/Walsh treble came in the other Grade 2 event, the Florida Pearl when Back In Focus, so impressive on his fencing debut at Listowel. powered clear of Lyreen Legend in the closing stages to triumph by four lengths
“He’s bred to like good ground and floats along on the gallops at home,” explained Mullins, “But he has so much stamina that soft ground seems to bring out the best in him. He’s tough and loves that ground and we’ll go the staying route with him. He’ll head for the Grade 1 three-miler at Leopardstown at Christmas.”
A recent bumper winner in Naas, the Noel Meade-trained Road To Riches justified 1/6 favouritism in the opening maiden hurdle, proving too strong for the Mullins-trained Pride Of the Parish.
Meade said: “He’s a real stayer and needs two and a half miles plus. He’s a lovely mover and would be better on better ground. We’ll probably head for the Grade 1 in Navan next month now but you won’t see the best of him until he jumps fences.”
Road To Riches is owned by Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, whose colours dominated the later Punchestown On TG4 Next Saturday Handicap Hurdle in which the Gordon Elliott-trained Beef To The Heels, under another tremendous ride by Jane Mangan (her fifteenth career success), followed-up his recent win by getting the better of the Davy Russell-ridden favourite Maxim Gorky,
The Timmy Hyde-trained debutant O Maonlai, ridden by Nina Carberry, justified a substantial gamble in the bumper, getting home by a half-length from Redundant Man.
“He’s a fine big horse and jumps well,” said Hyde. “He’s only a four-year-old and I’m not sure what we’ll do with him. But he’s a nice horse, with a great pedigree, from the same family as Gaye Brief.”
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