Harry Fry, one of the brightest young talents on the scene across the water, recorded a quickfire double in the featured Grade 1 Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle, with Unowhatimeanharry, and the Shamrock Enterprises Handicap Hurdle with Minella Awards.
Hot on the heels of Wednesday’s Gold Cup, the stayers’ hurdle was another thriller and, under a clever ride from Noel Fehily, Unowhatimeanharry reversed Cheltenham form with Nichols Canyon – but only just.
The field tightened up on the turn for home, but these two readily pulled clear up the straight and, in a head-bobbling finish, in which the lead changed with almost every stride inside the final 10 yards, it was Unowhatimeanharry, under strong guidance from Noel Fehily, which put its nose on the line first.
Asked if he had learned anything from Unowhatimeanharry’s defeat at Cheltenham, a relived Fry admitted: “I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch that race again, I was so disappointed. It just wasn’t his day.
“But this win means so much, and what a fantastic race it was. There were 18 lengths back to third, and neither horse deserved to lose.
“Our horse is as tough as nails. He travelled well, and Noel was brilliant on him. This is what it’s all about. It’s just special. Punchestown has been very lucky for us, we enjoy coming here, and look forward to bringing more horses in the yards to come.”
Fry and Fehily were back in the winner’s enclosure following the next race, when Minella Awards continued his rapid rise in the handicap, with a fluent success in the three-mile race, in which he led home a British-trained
“What a forty minutes!” declared Fry. “This horse is new to us this season, and we felt he would improve in the spring.”
And Neil Mulholland made it three on the day for British-based raiders, when Dead Right and young rider Jonjo O’Neill, son of the former top jockey and leading trainer Jonjo, took the bumper in good style.
Jessica Harrington’s successes this week are a prime example of the fine margins between winning and losing in this sport. Her early double on yesterday’s card confirmed the racing gods are smiling on the Moone handler, as the winning margins for her four winners at the meeting read a nose, a short head, a head and half a length.
The first leg of yesterday’s double came courtesy of the well-backed Bobabout, in the JLT Handicap Hurdle. Carrying the crazy quilt silks of owner Howard Spooner, he required another inspired ride from Robbie Power to get up on the line, from Runyon Rattler.
Harrington’s 53-1 double was completed 35 minutes later, when Don’t Touch It travelled smoothly through the pigsback.com Nick Coen Memorial Handicap Chase, and responded well to Mark Walsh’s urgings to deny the late efforts of Caolaneoin and his own stable-companion, Neverushacon, by half a length and the same.
After so many frustrations, the Willie Mullins team gathered momentum with the success of Great Field, in the Grade 1 Ryanair Novice Chase. There’s a compelling jeopardy to his jumping technique, but when he is good, he’s very, very good, and was certainly all that as he gave jockey Jody McGarvey his first Grade 1 success.
After giving the chasers false hope at the second-last, when they closed to within a length, he came back on the bridle, and eased away to a wide-margin victory over Arkle third Ordinary World.
“The saddle was gone, going to the second-last,” revealed McGarvey. “He can get in and give a few a rub, and I’d say he rubbed one a bit too hard, and brought the girth with him. I was just hoping it would stays in place after the last. There was a sigh of relief, to say the least, when we got away safely from the last.
“But, what a horse, what an engine. The speed he was going a couple of times down the back, I was long. It was do or die, and he came up. He has his own way of doing things, but is rock-solid on his feet. I am very lucky to be sitting on him – it’s the best feeling in the world.”
Said Mullins: “Jody and he make a great team. Jody was very brave and the horse responded. He’s a horse with a super engine, he loves jumping, and obviously has huge talent.”
The pendulum finally swung in Ruby Walsh’s favour, as he made all the running to win the mares’ novice hurdle aboard Mullins’ Asthuria, with stable companions Pravalaguna and Good Thyne Tara following her home.
“We’ve been hitting the crossbar all week, but one or two are starting to go in, so fingers crossed,” said Mullins, who hasn’t given up on retaining the trainers’ title. “We’ll keep going until we cross the line, but I think (the Gordon Elliott-trained) Apple’s Jade might put paid to it on Saturday.”
Barry Cash, at 43 years of age, the senior professional in the weigh-room, was seen to best effect aboard the Shay Slevin-trained Treo Eile in the Friends First Cross Country Chase La Touche Cup. The winner, runner-up in the first race of the meeting, appreciated the step up to four miles and a furlong, but was all out to deny easy-to-back odds-on favourite Cantlow by a head.
Cash hinted at his impending departure from the weight-room: “I have been riding for Shay for twenty-odd years, and I owe him that. I’m not retiring today, but this is the last festival you’ll see me riding at.”
There was one confirmed retirement following the race, as it was revealed third-placed First Lieutenant, winner of the Grade 1 Neptune Novice Hurdle in 2011 and Grade 1 Betfred Bowl in 2013, had run his last race.
* The attendance was considerably up on last year, with 19,072 compared to 16,976, while Tote turnover of €791,674, was down from €895,490 in 2016.
4: Jessica Harrington, Willie Mullins.
3: Gordon Elliott.
2: Colin Tizzard, Harry Fry.
1: Peter Maher, Peter Fahy, Robert Tyner, Noel Meade, Jonathan Sweeney, S Slevin, Neil Mulholland.
4: Robbie Power.
3: Jamie Codd.
2: Bryan Cooper, Noel Fehily, Jody McGarvey.
1: Danny Mullins, Derek O’Connor, Lisa O’Neill, Ryan Tracey, Paul Townend, Mark Walsh, Barry Cash, Ruby Walsh, Jonjo O’Neill Jnr.
- Former Grand National winner Amberleigh House has died at the age of 25 after suffering a bout of colic.
The 2004 Aintree hero - who also won the Becher Chase over the famous fences in 2001 - lost his battle following an operation after being diagnosed with the condition on Good Friday.