Mullins' Hurricane Fly whips up classic display
Hurricane Fly showed his brilliance remains very much intact when making a superb return from injury in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
The six-year-old -- which proved the highlight of a brilliant treble from the in-form Willie Mullins -- looked to have the hurdling world at his feet after a spellbinding novice season, which culminated in a runaway success at this meeting 12 months ago.
Following defeat on his reappearance in November, Mullins' charge suffered a string of problems which led to him missing much of the season, including the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
But Mullins refused to panic and having slowly nurtured his star turn back to full health, he was sent off at 3/1 for a red-hot Grade One featuring last year's winner Solwhit and top-class novice Dunguib.
Ridden by Paul Townend, Hurricane Fly travelled with his trademark panache throughout and eased into contention on the turn for home.
While Dunguib also cruised up to make his challenge, his effort was ultimately shortlived and as he dropped away, Townend continued to exude confidence.
For a moment Hurricane Fly looked like running away with the contest, but Solwhit stuck to his guns at the head of affairs before eventually giving way to his rival, which got on top to score by a neck.
The winner's stablemate, County Hurdle winner Thousand Stars, ran a fantastic race to finish third, while Alan King's Medermit fared best of the British contingent in fourth.
"Paul rode him very confidently and they didn't go a particularly fast pace; it was slow early on and that probably helped us," Mullins said.
"He looked beaten at the last but his class pulled him through."
Mullins was denied a four-timer when Reve De Sivola edged out the Carlow trainer's Fionnegas to record his second Grade One success of the season in the Cathal Ryan Memorial Champion Novice Hurdle.
Earlier, Mullins had struck with 25/1 chance Palace Merano, which came good in the staying handicap chase.
The seven-year-old had been unplaced in his previous six starts over fences but although Davy Condon was hard at work some way from home, his mount was always responding to pressure in the straight to get the better of Ameretto Son. The champion trainer completed his hat-trick when Arvika Ligeonniere turned on the style in the conditions novice hurdle, completing a double for Townend.
"That was unexpected. I didn't dream that he would be able to perform like that over this trip," said Mullins.
Chasing Cars made the most of a drop in class when making every yard of the running in the Motivatechallenge.com Novice Handicap Chase. Sent off at 10/1 Chasing Cars kicked clear turning for home to win by an impressive 10 lengths.