Paul Carberry displayed all his strength at Punchestown today when driving Wild Passion home for a heart-stopping victory in the Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle.
Carberry had been scrubbing along on the 7-4 favourite a full five flights from the finish, but still managed to land the Grade One contest by a short head after an epic battle with Kill Devil Hill.
Always handy, the five-year-old kicked away from the field three out with an impressive burst of speed, but he was reeled in by the pack and had to battle tooth and nail up the run-in, taking the two-mile race in a photo-finish.
“He was second at Cheltenham and he’s won here, so I’m delighted,” said trainer Noel Meade.
“I did consider putting blinkers on him as he is a lazy horse, especially when he’s in front.
“There’s always plenty left in the locker, but he just started to look around - even in Cheltenham he was running around towards the finish.
“He’s a brilliant jumper, but does not jump as well as he should do as he runs about.
“I will school him over fences and that’s a possibility for next season.
Wild Passion could make a quick reappearance at the meeting as he is entered in Friday’s Menolly Homes Champion Novices Hurdle over two and a half miles.
“I have left him in the race on Friday and there’s a possibility he could run,” added Meade.
Forget The Past could go in search of gold following his easy win in the Grade Two Ellier Developments Novice Chase under Timmy Murphy.
The Michael O’Brien-trained gelding was prominent throughout, moving through to take the lead four from home.
Sent off the 7-4 favourite, Forget The Past was clear in the home straight and came home without being unduly pressurised to record a five-length success from Jonjo O’Neill’s raider Quazar.
Duncliffe made a bold bid to take the prize back to Britain for a second successive season after Lord Sam’s victory last year.
Robert Alner’s charge made most of the running under Andrew Thornton and after relinquishing the lead to Forget The Past, kept on well to take fourth place.
Third slot was filled by Davenport Milenium, who rallied well in the closing stages but never got near the winner.
O’Brien was delighted with his horse’s win and thought Murphy’s riding skills made all the difference.
“I thought he was very unlucky in Fairyhouse the last time. I thought he should have won,” he said.
“I wasn’t happy with the way he had been ridden so I decided to change the jockey as he’s a horse who likes to do his own thing.
“He’s a real natural chaser and will hopefully go on to better things.
“His family are very late maturing so with another stone improvement he could go for the Gold Cup.”
Nicky Henderson put the British on the scoreboard with 13-2 chance it’s a Dream running out an easy winner of the Goffs Land Rover Bumper.
The five-year-old followed up an easy Folkestone win by coming home four lengths clear of Virginia Preuil under Aidan Fitzgerald.
“When you come over here you must have the best man on board and the first time I ever met Aidan was when he won on Royal Rosa for me here,” said Henderson.
“This race has always been the plan. I decided not run him again as I was worried that he would get a second penalty.
“He is a serious horse and it is nice to get one on the board.”
Carberry opened the meeting with a success as he saw off his sister Nina to register Davids Lad’s first win over fences since 2001.
The 7-2 shot was well-treated by the conditions in the Kildare Hunt Club Chase, run over the unique banks course, and hardly had to come out of first gear when defeating Enda Bolger’s Shady Lad by four and a half lengths.
“He’s naturally a good ‘lepper’, but I got a fright when he slipped at the first bank,” said winning trainer Tony Martin.
“I’ll think about some more banks races for him and he could go for the Pardubicka or even the Galway Plate.”