Dessie Hughes’ charge displayed all his renowned fighting spirit to confirm Cheltenham form with the grey, Rooster Booster, in, arguably, the race of the week, the Emo Oil Champion Hurdle.
Hardy Eustace beat Rooster Booster by five lengths in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, but Philip Hobbs’ gelding was best for money in the ring to reverse placings.
He got closer, but that was all, as Hardy Eustace, under an inspired Conor O’Dwyer, was too much of a man for him again.
“He is a very hard horse to get by,” reported a delighted O’Dwyer. “He jumped super and loved the fast pace.
“He was brilliant, this is fantastic. He idled a bit down the back and I had to give him a few reminders. He loves a battle and I had trouble pulling him up.”
Solerina carried them along at a swinging pace, stalked by the winner. O’Dwyer had to get serious with Hardy Eustace heading to the fourth last, administering a few sharp cracks.
Hardy Eustace didn’t flinch and responded immediately. He powered past the mare coming away from the third last, but they were in the air together two out.
Hardy Eustace, though, was in full flow by now and held the call off the home turn. Rooster Booster was quickly in pursuit, absolutely cruising.
Down to the last and it was crystal clear Rooster Booster was travelling the stronger.
Hardy Eustace, however, didn’t become a champion by accident. He flew the final flight and, suddenly, Rooster Booster was struggling to get on terms.
Hardy Eustace roared up the line and, indeed, O’Dwyer didn’t have to be hard on him close home to score by a comfortable length.
“It was just as I expected,” said Hughes. “I knew he would have a hard race today, Punchestown is a much easier track than Cheltenham.
“This was a tough race and he was great. Conor was superb. Next season he will start off in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse and then it will be Leopardstown at Christmas.
“I have now forgotten about trying to make him into a Stayers’ Hurdle horse. He has the speed and is entitled to go back to Cheltenham to defend his crown.”
Ladbrokes offered Hardy Eustace at 8-1 for next year’s Champion Hurdle, Paddy Power 6’s, with Cashmans going a stand-out 12-1.
Hughes completed a memorable day when Liscannor Lad landed a big 59-1 double in the Sharp Minds Betfair Novice Handicap ’Chase.
Ride The Storm was in front four out, but Liscannor Lad gradually wore him down for Paddy Flood, grabbing the advantage over the final fence.
“He was well in, especially with Paddy’s claim”, reported Hughes. “He was unlucky in a couple of races and got handicapped by accident. He will be a Galway Plate horse.”
Willie Mullins’ Sadlers Wings produced an excellent performance to beat Kadiskar in the Menolly Homes Champion Novice Hurdle.
Partnered with typical confidence and patience by Ruby Walsh, Sadlers Wings found an explosive turn of foot to lead early in the straight and score cosily by three and a half lengths.
“I think he would be better suited by more give in the ground,” commented Mullins. “My plan now is to aim him at the Champion Hurdle.”
Major Vernon took Mullins’ total for the four days to six when storming clear well over a furlong down to grab the Bumper.
Andrew McNamara, 21 yesterday, celebrated in style when giving Take Aim a dashing drive to land the CSL Hospitality ’Chase over the banks.
The mare, sixth earlier in the week behind Andrewjames, was giving both McNamara and trainer, Gerry O’Neill, a first success at the Festival.
Take Aim, always on the pace, began to skip clear from the third last and had no trouble holding market leader, Mr Shush, by four lengths.
Junior Fontaine, struggling to find any sort of form of late, gave Arthur Moore his first winner of the week in the Mountbrook Homes Handicap ’Chase.
Fiery Ring made a brave attempt from the front, but a mistake two out took its toll and Junior Fontaine swept past heading to the final fence to give Conor O’Dwyer the opening leg of a double.
Verchoyles Lad was a desperately unclucky loser of the Aon Group-Sean Barrett Bloodstock Insurances Handicap ’Chase.
He had the contest in safe keeping at the last, but made the worst error imaginable. Davy Russell did well to maintain the partnership, but the damage was done and Howaya Pet wore him down half-way up the run in.
lThe attendance yesterday was a whopping 21,139, against 15,600 last year. The overall attendance for the week was 73,361. A year ago it was 68,000.