In a fascinating duel, perfectly set up by the front-running mare Little King Robin, odds-on favourite Jezki, ridden for the first time by Mark Walsh, edged ahead early in the straight. But as he did, Ruby Walsh on Hurricane Fly loomed large, having recovered from a mistake at the second last obstacle.
Quickening well, Hurricane Fly held a narrow lead when his rival ‘missed’ the final flight and, although Jezki rallied, the former dual-champion was firmly on top on the run-in and ran on strongly to triumph by two and a quarter lengths, to consolidate his world-record total of Grade 1 successes, which has now reached a remarkable 20.
Hurricane Fly's performance delighted his trainer Willie Mullins, who commented: “Ruby was tactically very good and the race worked out well for us. Jezki had to commit and chase the leader. It’s not going to be like that all season but, on the day, it suited us.
“This horse is getting older but, if he reproduce that sort of form, there should be more to come in the top races. He'll follow the usual route and will head for Leopardstown at Christmas next.”
Mullins added: “On his home work, I thought he was stronger than last year but, when we pulled the rug off him in the ring, I thought he looked heavy.”
And Ruby Walsh stated: “It's a sad day for racing (referring to the death of trainer Desssie Hughes), but that was a great performance by Hurricane Fly. Form is temporary but class is permanent. And he’s always shown lots of guts and determination. When we got to Jezki, I always thought we’d win.”
Jessica Harrington, trainer of the runner-up, offered no excuses: “We were beaten by a better horse on the day - they’re two top-class hurdlers and finished 15 lengths clear of the third. Our horse missed the last, but that was all. We have no excuses.”
Champion trainer Willie Mullins, who had a treble in Cork, completed a Punchestown double when Bordini, ridden by Patrick, made all to beat the gambled-on Falcon Crest in the bumper. The winner will now head for Leopardstown at Christmas and will be kept in bumper company this season.
The Grade 2 action provided victories for the Henry de Bromhead-trained Shanahan’s Turn in the Dobbins Outdoor Catering Florida Pearl Novice Chase and Noel Meade’s Chancol in the Madigans Bars Craddockstown Novice Chase.
Shanahan’s Turn, a course winner last time, proved himself an exciting prospect when recovering from a slight mistake at the last to slam Indevan, prompting his trainer to comment: “He settled well (for Jonathan Burke) and jumped deadly. The dream is still alive with him.
“We’ll probably look at the three-mile Grade 1 at Leoparsdtown over Christmas - I was always keen to get the business done with him early in the season. The RSA at Cheltenham is probably an obvious target, but I’ve never been a massive fan of the race. I must talk to Alan and Ann (Potts) about plans.”
Earlier, Chancil, in the colours of JP McManus, came from off the pace under Paul Carberry to wear down trail-blazing Un Beau Roman in the Craddockstown, the massively-built five-year-old retaining his unblemished record around Punchestown.
“He’s only five and so big that he should keep improving,” said Meade. “He’s still light and could be anything when he fills out. Fences have been the making of him. But we won’t be rushing him - he won't run too often.”
Elsewhere on the supporting card, the Gigginstown-owned 2/11 shot No More Heroes made all under Bryan Cooper to justify 2/11 favouritism in the stayers’ maiden hurdle. Gordon Elliott’s charge looks an exciting staying chaser in the making.
And Lite Bites, ridden for Charles Byrnes by Davy Russell, landed a substantial gamble (14/1 in the morning and backed from 11/2 to 11/4 on-track) when proving a convincing winner of the Flynn & Lynch Supporting Longford GAA Handicap Hurdle.