Faugheen fires on return from long lay-off
It was like the well-oiled machine hadn't been switched off for 22 months as the great Faugheen moved to the head of the Champion Hurdle ante-post market after an impressive return to action in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.
The 2015 Champion Hurdle hero could not have been more convincing in the Unibet-sponsored Grade One contest, on what was his eagerly-awaited comeback after 665 days on the sidelines, having last been seen winning the Irish Champion Hurdle in January 2016.
Paul Townend, deputising on Willie Mullins' star for the injured Ruby Walsh, let Faugheen bowl along in front and once he asked him to go and put the race to bed, the 4/9 favourite fairly sprinted clear. Jezki, another former Champion Hurdle victor, was a distant second. Campeador fell at the last when well out of contention.
Faugheen was cut to 5/2 market leader from 5/1 for the two-mile championship at Cheltenham in March.
Mullins reflected: "It was very good. The horse did all the talking today. I've been talking up to now and you've all seen what I was saying.
"I don't know what I want to do now, I'm just happy to get today over with. We'll go home and hopefully he'll be all right in the morning.
"Paul was very happy with him. He said he moved up through the gears, he took a big jump at the last one down the back. He was all wrong, stood back, let fly and landed with his hind legs on top of it but it didn't take a thing out of him.
"The race was set up for any one of those, fit from summer racing. Discussing it with Ruby and Paul beforehand both of them felt the horse was good enough to do that and if he got tired or needed the race, so be it."
He went on: "He was ready just after Punchestown (in the spring) so it's nice to get out on the track and let everyone see that we weren't talking absolute and utter rubbish! You get the feeling sometimes that people don't believe and that you are just saying things.
"That's the way he's been - he was like that last May and in early June he could have come and put in a performance better than that I'd say, as he was readier. We had to let him down and build him back up again. He's been very good at home and we haven't had any setbacks with him.
"Hopefully we won't after today. Hopefully he's fine in the morning, and over the next few days, and we'll just prepare him for his next run. I have no plans and I'm just happy to get past today."
Robbie Power took the riding honours with a double initiated when Woodland Opera floored hot favourite Tombstone to claim Grade Two honours in the Ryans Cleaning Craddockstown Novice Chase.
Jessica Harrington's 11/2 outsider of four shadowed the pace-setting Calino D'airy for most of the two-mile journey, before pressing him hard before the third-last fence.
Tombstone came with a strong challenge, but the 10/11 market leader was half a length behind the winner at the line.
"It's great as there are a lot of the Coopers (owners) here today," said Harrington. "I probably got his trip right for the winter ground. I don't think he gets any further than two miles on heavy ground."
Power completed a quickfire big-race double on Jury Duty (6/1) in the Liam & Valerie Brennan Memorial Florida Pearl Novice Chase after producing Gordon Elliott's six-year-old to head stablemate Shattered Love at the final fence and go on to score by three-parts of a length.
Presenting Percy, the even-money favourite, was 12 lengths away in third after making a couple of errors at crucial stages of the race.
Elliott brought up a double courtesy of the smooth success of Rapid Escape (4/6) under Lisa O'Neill in the closing bumper.