Able deputy for an able deputy.
So proved Vroum Vroum Mag in yesterday’s Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle, as she successfully stepped into the space left by Annie Power, whose opportunity to claim the Champion Hurdle crown had also come through an enforced absence, that of former champ Faugheen.
Despite taking on geldings for the first time since joining the Mullins team and dropping back to two miles against top company, she was backed as though defeat was out of the question, contracting from an overnight high of 9-4 to a starting price of 4-6.
And there were few concerns for her considerable band of backers, as she set off in second place behind Identity Thief before taking over after the second flight.
Travelling sweetly and jumping smoothly throughout, she had her rivals off the bridle before the turn for home.
Ruby Walsh allowed his mount fiddle the last, before urging her to see off the renewed effort of Identity Thief, which she did with a degree of comfort.
“She has some ability,” said Walsh, picking up his third Grade One of the week. “We were running out of ammo, so were lucky to have her. To think we started the season with Nichols Canyon, Arctic Fire, Faugheen and Annie Power, and then end up winning the Grade One Champion Hurdle with Vroum Vroum Mag.
Explaining the decision to take up the running from an early stage, he added: “She travelled well over the first and down to the second, which she pinged. She was travelling well within herself, she wasn’t not going to get the trip, so there was no point slowing her down.”
“She put the race to bed going to the last hurdle. There was a big one (jump) there, but I didn’t need it, I just let her fiddle and pop it, and she pulled out plenty to win.”
Like many of her vaunted stable companions, next season’s targets are fluid. Said her trainer: “I hadn’t realised how much speed she had until I worked her before Cheltenham.
“We were gobsmacked that day. She’d be quick enough to run in the Champion Hurdle, but we could go any route with her next year.”
It was ladies’ day trackside and on the turf, as Jer’s Girl became the first filly since Asian Maze in 2005 to win the Grade One Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle.
Gavin Cromwell’s four-year-old was ridden with great confidence by Barry Geraghty, who brought her to loom large alongside long-time leader Thomas Hobson before the final turn.
After straightening up, she picked up really well to put 10 lengths between her and the staying-on O O Seven. It was a second Grade One success for horse and trainer, following her equally impressive display at Fairyhouse.
“She was very good, and Barry said she loved the ground,” said Cromwell. “I was certain she had improved from Fairyhouse – she had strengthened up quite a bit, and come in her coat.
“I don’t know what we’ll do with her next year, but she stays two and a half miles, and will stay three miles in time.”
Emotions ran high when the Enda Bolger-trained On The Fringe completed the spring festivals treble – winning at Cheltenham, Aintree and Fairyhouse – for a record second time, doing so with another imperious display in the Champion Hunters’ Chase.
Confidently ridden by Nina Carberry, the odds-on favourite confirmed Cheltenham superiority with Marito, to secure a fifth success in the race.
The tearful winning trainer explained why it meant so much: “This is the one the pressure was on for but we knew he was bouncing. He’s a special horse to have around, and I always think of JT (McNamara), who rode the horse the first time he won this race.”
For the second time in four days, Willie Mullins recorded a treble, this time starting off with 11-2 chance Avant Tout, who stayed on well to defy top weight in the EMS Copiers Novice Handicap Chase.
Winning rider Paul Townend completed his double when Mullins’ Koshari made a winning debut for the stable in the two-mile novice hurdle. The four-year-old looked green throughout but his rider kept him together, and only asked him to see off stablemate Bello Conti after the last. He looks a tremendous prospect.
Having his first run since winning the race last year, the Denis Cullen-trained, Johnny Barry-ridden Shin A Vee completed a hat-trick of victories in the race when taking the opening KFM Hunters’ Chase, seven years after landing it for the first time.
Jockey Jack Kennedy gave further evidence of his ability in the saddle when giving Definite Ruby a fine ride to land the Glencarraig Lady Mares’ Handicap Chase for trainer Gordon Elliott.
Trainer Philip Hobbs took the bumper with No Comment, who travelled well but had to be ridden out by Jamie Codd to get the better of the game Monalee.
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