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Hurricane finds his second wind

Yesterday's Rabobank Champion Hurdle on the penultimate day of the Punchestown Festival was won for the third successive year by the Willie Mullins-trained Hurricane Fly, who triumphed despite not being at his apparent best.

The former Cheltenham Champion Hurdle winner looked to have a couple of anxious moments, but, in the end, he had too much class for his stable companions Zaidpour and Thousand Stars.

It was the second time this week that Willie Mullins had saddled a 1-2-3 in a Grade One and Hurricane Fly had two-and-a-half lengths to spare at the finish.

Ruby Walsh said: "Halfway down the back I was thinking I'd like to be on Zaidpour but his (Hurricane Fly) raw ability and guts won this for him today. He was nothing like the horse I rode in Leopardstown, more like Cheltenham.

"He was lethargic in Cheltenham and he was lethargic out there today.

"Horses to me, that run that flat as he did today, don't win unless they are exceptional."

Exceptional he may be as he managed to return to winning ways despite not being at his very best according to Walsh, and his trainer is hoping he does not have the same interrupted campaign next season.

"We will try get him out earlier next season and follow the same route as last season," said Mullins. Reflecting on the season, he added: "Ruby thought he'd be far better from the third last but he was amongst horses then and once he pulled him out at the last he went about his job.

"Once he got to the front he only did enough.

"He may be settling better and we might have to ride him differently and train him differently from now on. He was always extremely keen in his races but in Leopardstown he settled and in Cheltenham he probably settled too well so we will probably train him like a normal horse now."

The champion trainer concluded: "As he has matured he may have settled better. He had quite a hard race at Cheltenham and I wonder is he thinking about that. He is by Montjeu and they like to think a bit.

"Maybe it was the ground. As horses get older they get a preference for ground and maybe that's it. We will probably put him away now."

There was further Grade One success on the penultimate day of the season for Tony Martin who earlier on in the campaign saddled his first at that level; yesterday, it was Dedigout who obliged.

The well supported six-year-old won an exciting renewal of the Cathal Ryan Memorial Champion Novice Hurdle and Martin thanked owner Michael O'Leary for guiding him towards the race.

"I intended on running him in the three-mile but the boss man (O'Leary) said that two-and-a-half on that ground would be plenty far enough for him and fair play to him he was dead right.


"He missed every hurdle when he ran at Naas so I was hoping if he jumped well that on that run he'd be able to do something like that."

As for future plans, Martin said: "He looks a proper horse to go chasing with, he is a real mud-lover and I have no doubt he'll get three miles so he could develop into a nice staying chaser."

The opening Ryanair Novice Chase was won by Tom Cooper's Lucky William in the hands of Barry Geraghty as he pulled out all the stops to deny previous Grade One winner Blackstairmountain.

Cooper admitted to being somewhat confident afterwards: "Looking at the runners, out of all of them I thought my horse would handle the ground the best and he proved it."

The two-mile novice hurdle provided Geraghty with a double on the card as he claimed the honours on Oscara Dara, who led home a 1-2 for trainer Nicky Henderson.

Despite all the changes to the card at Punchestown, the attendance figure for yesterday's meeting was 27,219, which was up 2,033 from last year -- an incredible achievement by all concerned at the racecourse.