Punjabi grabs Champion prize

A brilliant tactical ride by Barry Geraghty saw Nicky Henderson’s Punjabi decisively land the ACC Bank Champion Hurdle at Punchestown yesterday.

Henderson’s thoughts immediately turned to his stable jockey, Mick Fitzgerald, who is recovering from serious neck injuries incurred when L’Ami fell in the Grand National at Aintree.

“It’s our first big one without Mick”, exclaimed Henderson with tears in his eyes. “We had a board meeting this morning and I spoke to Mick and Mick spoke to Barry.”

Salford City carried them along with Kalderon second and Punjabi in third. The two hold-up horses, Sublimity and Harchibald, waited some way off the pace.

Geraghty was always in the best position to strike and he made his move shortly before the turn in, sending Punjabi past Salford City.

Harchibald was well beaten at this stage, as Sublimity tried to close. But he was never going to get in a real blow and was three lengths adrift of the winner at the line.

Ebaziyan stayed on from the back to claim third, with Harchibald a remote fourth. Even accepting that the rain in the morning was no help to Harchibald, this was a poor effort.

Henderson, who has supported Punchestown for so many years, was elated. “It was always going to be a race like that”, he remarked.

“Fair play to Barry, he grabbed it and away he went. This is a tough horse, but you have to put him to sleep early on.

“Then he quickened up well and nicked it. He’s run great all season and has finally won one.

“I love coming here, it’s fun and the prizemoney is great. We laid him out especially for this after Cheltenham.”

John Carr said of Sublimity: “I didn’t think Punjabi would beat us, although I was concerned Harchibald might come from off the pace and get us.

“He didn’t have his ground in the Champion Hurdle (Cheltenham), so there were excuses, but we have had a clear run from there, so don’t really have any today.

“We were beaten by a better horse, although maybe we could have been closer to the pace.”

Edward O’Grady and Andrew McNamara struck for the first time this week when Tranquil Sea put up a fine performance to win the Land Rover Champion Novice Hurdle.

Given a superb drive by McNamara, Tranquil Sea was produced with impeccable timing to hit the front early in the straight.

Fiveforthree was soon in pursuit, but hard as Ruby Walsh tried, he was never going to close down the winner.

“Things just didn’t go right for this horse at Cheltenham”, reported O’Grady. “He ran with the choke out.

“Andrew came back in and said I ran him in the wrong race (Supreme Novices). I’m not sure about that, but it was a bit of a balls-up. Without a shadow of a doubt, he will be going chasing next season.”

It has been an excellent week for English challengers and another race went for export when Philip Hobbs’ I Hear A Symphony took the Star Best For Racing Coverage Novice Hurdle.

He was bought out of Mags Mullins’, following a bumper success at Limerick, and was winning his first race for Hobbs.

Favourite Raise Your Heart looked as if he might oblige on the approach to the last, but not for the first time didn’t find as much as expected and was outbattled by I Hear A Symphony.

“He’s a horse with loads of pace, but we have been learning how to ride him”, said Hobbs. “You cannot put him in front too early and Tom (O’Brien) timed it to perfection. He was looking an expensive horse, but is cheaper now.”

It was a first Punchestown Festival winner for O’Brien.

Willie Mullins moved over the €2m mark in prizemoney for the season when Arbor Supreme took the Dunboyne Castle Hotels and Spa Handicap Chase.

You would have to say he had been a trifle disappointing, but there was little wrong with this performance, as he stormed clear from the final fence in the hands of Niall Madden.

Said Mullins: “I told Niall to ride him on the outside and to let the horse find his own way of jumping.

“I am delighted with Arbor Supreme and Ballytrim (fourth), to see them running so well. We will keep Arbor to long distance races on good ground.”

Unlucky horse of the race was Tony Martin’s Hold The Pin. Held up at the back for much of the contest by Paul Carberry, he was bang in contention when falling at the last.

Otterstown Lady swept ahead well over a furlong down to easily win the Bewleys’ Hotels EBF National Hunt Fillies Premier Bumper, giving Nina Carberry a belated first of the week.

The daughter of Indian Danehill is trained by Cathy O’Leary, it was her second winner, who is a sister of Martin’s.

He main business is pre-training and breaking horse. “This mare has been something special from day one”, she offered.

John Carr, out of luck with Sublimity, started his day in style when White Head and Emmet Mullins landed in front two out before going on to win the KFM Hunters Chase.

Mullins completed a doouble when kicking clear early in the straight on Bob Lingo to take the Yes To Carrots Bumper by six lengths. Bob Lingo is trained by his uncle, Tom Mullins.

The attendance was 30,184, down from 32,883 last year.

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