Five-star Ruby delivers in style as Hurricane secures record
On a Punchestown spread that witnessed Hurricane Fly at something less than his imperious best, the always-sublime Ruby Walsh lit up an overcast afternoon by winning every race he contested to secure an exquisite 27.5/1 five-timer.
It was the first time Walsh rode as many winners on a domestic card, though he did so for Paul Nicholls at Wincanton some years ago.
As is so often the case now, Willie Mullins was chief provider yesterday, the champion trainer facilitating all bar one of the victories.
All told, Hurricane Fly was merely workmanlike in claiming a record 17th Grade One success on his seasonal reappearance in the Stan James Morgiana Hurdle.
With no opposition of note, the dual Champion Hurdle hero was sent off at prohibitive odds of 1/16.
Accepting that he wasn't a betting prospect, a 3,800-strong crowd still appreciated seeing the classy nine-year-old strut his stuff.
There was none of his usual wow factor, yet The Fly was applauded into the winner's circle before receiving three cheers as he left.
Many observed beforehand that he appeared burly in the preliminaries, and that was ultimately borne out in the €80,000 two-miler, as he was made to work for his length-and-a-quarter verdict.
A spring-heeled jump at the last flight ought to have concluded the matter, but stablemate Marito came with a renewed burst under Walsh's sister Katie.
In truth, Hurricane Fly was always doing enough to hold Marito, as Mikael D'Haguenet and Midnight Game ensured the Mullins team a clean sweep of the first four places.
"He was as big and heavy as he ever was, and that was probably the least impressive he has ever been," Mullins confirmed.
"Still, it is nice to get the record out of the way. We will follow the tried-and-tested route with him, so he'll go to Leopardstown at Christmas next."
The two novice chases provided fine spectacles, with a pair of smart individuals drawing clear in both.
Again, the peerless Walsh emerged on top in each, excelling aboard Morning Assembly in the two-mile-six-furlong Grade Two for Mullins' Carlow neighbour Pat Fahy.
Walsh sat upsides in front on the Shantou six-year-old, but the duo looked set for second when Bryan Cooper cruised alongside aboard the odds-on Don Cossack.
However, when Don Cossack failed to pick up, Walsh seized the opportunity to eyeball him.
Morning Assembly duly responded gamely to prevail in thrilling fashion. Fahy revealed that the three-mile Grade One at Leopardstown over Christmas is next up for his stable star ahead of a possible tilt at the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in March.
"Ruby said that it didn't suit him to be in front like that, but he will come on for the experience because he has not got much of it," he added of the 6/4 shot.
"He should keep improving, and he is probably just very special – he battles and never lets you down."
Walsh burst another bubble in the two-mile equivalent aboard Mullins' Graham Wylie-owned Felix Yonger. Defy Logic was odds-on favourite for this Grade Two, but there was a fear that Paul Nolan's keen front-runner would prove vulnerable in better company.
Sure enough, when Walsh's clean-jumping mount sized him up in the straight, he too was found wanting. While Felix Yonger (6/4) is Mullins' sole entry in next month's Drinmore Novice Chase, the Closutton maestro hinted the Grade One might come too soon for him.
Mullins and Walsh initiated their respective hauls when Rich Ricci's exciting Faugheen readily justified odds of 1/5 in the maiden hurdle, before JP McManus' City Slicker completed the set by landing 7/4 favouritism in similar style in the two-mile handicap.
For all that it was the eight-time champion jockey's day, Brian Hayes made a bold bid for the riding performance of the day when getting Presenting Beara up in a pulsating finish to the longer handicap hurdle.
Colm Murphy's 10/1 shot went nip and tuck with More Madness from the last flight before Hayes finally got him home by a nose on the nod.