The second running of the MCR Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown yesterday provided a dream result for sponsor Douglas Taylor as his well-backed Final Approach landed the spoils for champion trainer Willie Mullins, who handsomely avenged last year's defeat of his team by Puyol.
Having saddled the second, third and fourth 12 months previously, Mullins was delighted to see Paul Townend chart a risky-looking course along the inner before producing Taylor's home-bred Pivotal gelding to take charge approaching the final flight.
"This horse probably got to the front a bit soon, but he's enjoying his racing over hurdles now and it all worked out well for us. Paul gave the horse a perfect ride down the brave man's route and this is what we have been aiming for all year," Mullins explained.
The plan was indeed a couple of months in the making, with Final Approach having appeared in need of the run when a close fifth to yesterday's sixth finisher Asigh Pearl at Fairyhouse. "That was his first run back over hurdles and today was his Derby," continued the Closutton handler.
For good measure, the runner-up berth was filled by stablemate Call The Police on his first outing for Mullins after a break of 399 days, with veteran Mutadarek in third and Northern Alliance, better known as a chaser, taking fourth prize.
"Emmet (Mullins) was very good too on Call The Police, which was having just his fourth run after a break. For the moment this horse -- which wants further -- will stay over hurdles and will go over fences next season," Mullins commented.
Cavan-born Taylor was the intrepid punter who masterminded the Dick Francis-inspired Kilbeggan coup last summer landed by his Conor O'Dwyer-trained hurdler D Four Dave, and said of Final Approach: "I always thought there was a big 'pot' in this horse and, fair play to Willie, he had him primed for today."
Tawaagg, which was 16/1 chance Puyol's closest pursuer for the Mullins yard in last year's initial MCR Group promotion, again had to settle for second best yesterday, this time on his debut over the larger obstacles in the Tote Beginners Chase.
The first fence, which was also the last scheduled to be jumped, was taken out due to impaired visibility from the low-lying sun, resulting in the field turning for home closely packed before Rahan De Marcigny emerged at the head of affairs, pursued by Tawaagg.
Townend, on the latter, hit the front coming into the final furlong and seemed poised for success until Tony McCoy galvanised Noel Meade's French-bred gelding to such good effect that they regained the advantage close home in a stirring duel.
"Rahan De Marcigny jumped great and pulled out more when Tony went for him, but is nothing special. He was hard to place after winning over hurdles in France and could struggle for the rest of the season off his current mark of 119," Meade observed.
An enterprising Davy Russell ride on Magnanimity combined with the Grade One 7lb penalty which Jessies Dream carried after his fortunate Fairyhouse success found out the odds-on favourite in the Killiney Novice Chase. Confidently handled by Timmy Murphy, who elected to delay his challenge until approaching the final fence, Jessies Dream found less than his pilot clearly expected on the subsequent climb to the post.
While the Gordon Elliott-trained hotpot seems better going right-handed, full marks to Russell in the colours of his main employer Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud for asking his mount at every fence.
"This horse looked smart the last day and is a good, sound three-mile 'chaser. I'm delighted with him, but he's a lazy sort and it wouldn't have suited him making the running as he'd prefer a lead," said winning trainer Dessie Hughes whose horses are in fine form.
The RSA Chase at Cheltenham is the main target for the Winged Love gelding, which could yet renew rivalry in the Cotswolds with Jessies Dream, before which Magnanimity will return to the Dublin track for next month's PJ Moriarty Memorial Chase.
Stable companion Rare Bob, equipped with blinkers for the first time, likewise put the opposition to the sword from the front in the Tote-sponsored Leopardstown Chase in the hands of regular partner Paddy Flood.
Unable to make much impact at Cheltenham a month ago behind Midnight Chase over an extended three miles one furlong, Rare Bob looked more at home over this shorter trip and will be heading back to the English course in March for the Ryanair Chase.
Dermot Weld unleashed a youngster of immense potential as Waaheb cantered home in the bumper. The four-year-old oozed class throughout and never came off the bridle for Robbie McNamara. The 11/8 favourite had plenty in hand as he cruised home, but early indications suggest a Listed four-year-old bumper at Limerick is his target, not the Cheltenham Bumper.
"That was roughly what I expected," said Weld, who won this race with Hidden Universe 12 months ago. "He's still a big, weak horse -- he has talent and he handles the ground well.
"I think we'll go to Limerick for the championship bumper there."