Punchestown disappointment for Willie Mullins as favourites Vautour and Yorkhill lose out
Willie Mullins just missed out to Paul Nicholls in the British trainers' championship last Saturday and he had to deal with further disappointment as hot favourites Yorkhill and Vautour both failed to shine on the first day of the Punchestown Festival.
Vautour was on something of a retrieval mission in the Boylesports Champion Chase after a falling at Aintree last time out, but his supporters remained loyal and he was sent off the 4-9 favourite.
However, Vautour had no answer when God's Own (9-1), who eventually landed the Melling Chase on Merseyside, pushed on from the second-last in the hands of Paddy Brennan.
Simonsig, who was having his first chase start in three years, tried to go with him but God's Own was too good, triumphing by two lengths from the staying-on Vautour, who just edged the runner-up prize.
George said: "We knew he was going to improve 8lb or so going right-handed on good ground.
"He'd put up two great performances at Cheltenham and Aintree, but we knew this was going to be his best if we could have him at his best, but obviously it was off the back of two big races. He's very much a spring horse and he obviously loves it here, but he isn't too bad around Aintree either.
"Everyone put it down as a bit of a fluke at Aintree with Vautour falling, but I think we've put it fair and square today."
Vautour's owner, Rich Ricci, suggested his charge was unsuited by the switch back to two miles at the end of a busy season. Yorkhill was similarly lacklustre as Don't Touch It claimed victory in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.
Mullins' runner was a winner at both Cheltenham and Aintree and was sent off the 4-9 market-leader to complete his hat-trick in the first Grade One of the week in County Kildare.
However, the warning signs were evident for odds-on backers a long way from home, with Ruby Walsh getting to work before the home turn on his first ride back from injury and Yorkhill eventually finished well-beaten in fourth place.
Jessica Harrington's Don't Touch It (16-1) hit the front in the straight and although Yorkhill's stable companion Petit Mouchoir kept him honest after the final flight, Don't Touch It knuckled down to score by half a length for Barry Geraghty.
Harrington said: "I always felt that better ground would bring out the best in him. He got bogged down the last day and had to miss an intended engagement at Fairyhouse with an infection in his leg. We trained him for here, and he's done us proud.
"It's great when the horses are running well and it can be infectious for the whole yard. That was a hell of a step up as he'd only won a maiden hurdle.
"He jumped great off that ground. They went fast in front but he cruised into it and Barry said he got lairy in front, but then went on again when the other horse came to him."
Mullins' Outlander was sent off the 3-1 market leader for the Growise Champion Novice Chase but he had to settle for second behind Zabana (7-2), with Grand National winner Rule The World back in sixth.
Zabana suffered a slice of misfortune at Cheltenham when unshipping Davy Russell at the start of the JLT Novices' Chase, but he made amends in fine style as he accounted for Outlander by two lengths.
Sub Lieutenant, who had suffered interference from a loose horse, was a creditable third while Mouse Morris' Rule The World could not repeat his Aintree heroics.
Zabana's trainer Andrew Lynch said: "He was nearly gone at the first but only missed one after that. After Cheltenham he seemed to sulk and went off everything, but in the last three weeks he came right. He wants that ground and is a really good horse.
"We'll let him off now and make a man of him for next year. He'll strengthen up again as he's only seven. He might start off here in the John Durkan (Memorial Punchestown Chase)
"In Cheltenham my heart sank. You would love to do it there, but it's lovely to win here as well. When the loose horse came across, I thought here comes our (bad) luck again."
Mullins did gain some minor compensation as newcomer Cilaos Emery (100-30 favourite) lifted the closing Donohue Marquees INH Flat Race under his son, Patrick.
There was further heartache for odds-on backers in the Goffs Land Rover Bumper as the heavily supported Jenkins was touched off by 22-1 shot Coeur De Lion, while Tempo Mac ran out an authoritative winner of the Killashee Handicap Hurdle at odds of 25-1 for trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Luke Dempsey.
Wish Ye Didnt gave favourite backers a rare bright spot by successfully defending her crown in the Kildare Hunt Club Fr Sean Breen Memorial Chase for Enda Bolger and Nina Carberry.