Mullins delight as Hurricane flies high
A rejuvenated Hurricane Fly benefited from the dramatic last-flight fall of Go Native to spearhead a sparkling 19/1 big-race treble for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh at Punchestown.
With Unaccompanied a non-runner, the €80,000 Dobbins & Madigans Morgiana Hurdle was left with a paltry three runners, and Hurricane Fly's 2/5 SP suggested the two-miler could turn into a tedious affair. It turned out to be quite the opposite.
Conscious that the 2011 Champion Hurdle hero had a tendency to race keenly after a lay-off, Mullins and Walsh decided to eliminate the possibility of his pulling hard off a slow pace on his reappearance by bouncing him out from the start. Hurricane Fly settled beautifully at a steady gallop in front, and still had a length advantage as he and Go Native reached for the final obstacle at full tilt.
How things would have panned out had the Paul Carberry-ridden Go Native not crashed to the floor is impossible to say, but Hurricane Fly had answered his in-form rider's every call up to then.
He certainly looked far more responsive than when labouring home here in April or when beaten at Cheltenham in March, eventually striding clear by 12 lengths from Captain Cee Bee.
"I was never happy with him last season," Mullins admitted after the George Creighton-owned eight-year-old had secured his 12th Grade One win. "It looked like there was going to be no pace and we felt we would have to make it (the running).
"We weren't worried about the trip or ground. All we were really worried about was facing two rivals who were race fit. As he gets older he seems to settle better and hopefully he'll improve from that. He is a different horse now. The only other thing we were worried about was that he can do too much when he is fresh, but making the running worked well for him."
Hurricane Fly is largely unchanged at 5/1 favourite to regain his Cheltenham crown come March, and will follow the same route back as the season before last, heading to Leopardstown at Christmas before a tilt at the Irish Champion Hurdle in January.
Mullins and Walsh also plundered both Grade Two novice chases. With two absentees, just four were left to vie for the €24,375 winner's purse in the longer two-mile-six edition, and Back In Focus saw off the other three one-by-one.
The strong-travelling Lyreen Legend lasted longest until finding little two-out, leaving the Graham Wylie-owned 2/5 shot to score by four lengths.
"We're not particularly looking for better ground for him," Mullins confirmed of the often-clumsy jumper. "He would want every inch of that trip and the heavy ground. He will go to Leopardstown at Christmas next."
In the AGK Displays-sponsored two-miler, Twinlight was sent off the 9/1 outsider of four, which soon began to look less than inspired when the odds-on Oscars Well fell at the second.
After making the running, Walsh's mount appeared vulnerable as he climbed over the last two fences, presenting Baily Green with an opportunity to stretch his winning sequence to eight.
Instead, it was the improving five-year-old Twinlight that brought its unbeaten run to three by digging deep to repel the challenge by half a length.
Noel Meade and Davy Russell got on the scoreboard when the Gigginstown Stud-owned Road To Riches justified odds of 1/6 in the maiden hurdle.
The champion jockey was denied a double on favourite Maxim Gorky in the handicap hurdle as the excellent Jane Mangan, sporting Gigginstown's second colours, collared him on the Gordon Elliott-trained 4/1 shot Beef To The Heels.
Fellow 7lb claiming amateur Richie Deegan won the other handicap hurdle on Tom Donohue's 4/1 favourite Followmeuptocarlow, while Nina Carberry took the closing bumper on Timmy Hyde's newcomer O Maonlai at odds of 7/4.