Willie Mullins’ stable star duly broke the world record for the number of Grade 1 races won, shared with Kauto Star and John Henry since his fourth Rabobank Champion Hurdle win here last April.
But he did so in no more than workmanlike style, beating stable-companions Marito, Mikael D’Haguenet and Midnight Game but failing to impress the big crowd, including his trainer, who saddled four winners at the Co Kildare venue and registered a treble in Cork.
Having tracked Mikael D’Haguenet, Hurricane Fly edged ahead on the home-turn but, to the disappointment of his many fans, failed to power clear in the manner anticipated.
Instead, he merely found enough approaching the last to see off Mikael; D’Haguenet and then, on the run-in, to hold Marito (Katie Walsh) with Mikael D’Haguenet three-quarters of a length away third.
A relieved Willie Mullins declared: “It’s grand to get that over with, to break the record,” before adding, “it was one of his least impressive performances, if not the least impressive, of his career. But hopefully, he’ll improve through the season.
“He came back very strong from his summer’s grass and, as paddock watchers would confirm, he’s as heavy as he ever was. There should be plenty of improvement to come and the plan is to keep it simple with him and follow the same routine.”
Hurricane Fly, now successful eight times at Punchestown, will run in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas, followed by the Irish Champion Hurdle, the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Rabobank Champion Hurdle, back at Punchestown, in April.
The reigning champion eased to 6/1 (from 5) with Paddy Power for the Champion in March while Stan James, Ladbrokes and Boylesports all make him a 5/1 shot to win the race a third time.
The other highlight of the champion trainers’ day in Punchestown was the success of Felix Yonger over Defy Logic in the Madigans Bars Craddockstown Novice Chase, the second leg of Ruby’s five-timer.
Having jumped and travelled well, on the heels of the leaders, Felix Yonger had edged past the front-running favourite when his rival made a mistake at the final fence and stayed on to win by two-and-a-half lengths, the pair stretching eighteen lengths clear of the third.
“That looked impressive to me,” said Mullins afterwards. “His jumping was very good at the business end of the race. He looked well within himself over that trip, so I’ll be happy to leave him there. That was a tough race today - they went a fair lick and went at it from the third last.
“I’m very conscious of that and, although he’s in the Drinmore, it’ll probably come too soon for him. We might wait until Christmas (for the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown) with him.”
Successful on his fencing bow on this track last month, the Pat Fahy-trained Morning Assembly, under a vintage ride from Ruby, got the better of the flattering odds-on favourite Don Cossack by a half-length in a tremendous battle for the Grade 2 Dobbins Outdoor Catering Florida Pearl Novice Chase.
Having disputed the lead with Si C’Etait Vrai, Morning Assembly looked in trouble when joined and headed by the runner-up before the second last. There was little between them at the last, before Walsh’s mount dug deep for victory.
“I’m delighted with that and he’ll probably go to Leopardstown at Christmas now (for the Grade 1 Fort Leney Novice Chase over three-miles). There’s no end to him - he just knuckles down keeps going. It didn’t suit being in front, but he found plenty and Ruby said there was more in the tank.”
Winner of his only point-to-point -in Ballysteen — and impressive in a bumper on this track back in May, Faugheen enhanced his tall reputation when coasting to an effortless 1/5 victory in the opening INH Stallion Owners Maiden Hurdle and giving the Mullins/Walsh partnership the perfect start to an amazing day.
Always travelling strongly, he jumped well throughout, cruised through on the inside of Oscar Chimes turning for home and was in command when fluffing the final flight before scoring, eased down, by six and a half lengths from Chute Hall.
Mullins commented: “It looked straight-forward, but Ruby said he was too keen and would be better over a shorter trip. So he’ll come back in trip and will probably go for the two-and-a-half mile Grade 1 in Navan next month (Navan Novice Hurdle on December 15).”
Ruby completed his 27½/1 five-timer (the second of his career, having achieved the milestone in Wincanton previously) and provided Mullins with his fourth win at Punchestown when the JP McManus-owned City Slicker made all to record a smooth success in the Go Racing In Kildare 2014 Membership Handicap Hurdle, beating Bishopsloigh by four lengths.
“He’s a tricky horse to train and to ride and I left tactics to Ruby,” said Mullins. “He jumped well in front and will jump a fence in time as he’s a very slick jumper. He won’t run very often and is best going right-handed. He should get into some of the big handicaps now. maybe a race like the Ladbroke in Ascot.”