Faugheen back to his old self on another big day for Closutton
Mullins surges further clear in trainers’ battle as Footpad further enhances his reputation
The epitaphs had been all but written as the 'Machine' seemed short of oil after his Champion Hurdle disappointment at the Cotswolds and his career derailed. Faugheen was deemed a beaten docket and dismissed by almost everyone, including his trainer.
The genius of Willie Mullins to produce the brilliant ten-year-old to win the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle and seamlessly step up to three miles for the first time since December 2013 is quite remarkable, but even he was shocked.
Last Saturday he watched closely with stable jockey Ruby Walsh as Faugheen (11/2) struggled on the Closutton gallops, but he was back to his dazzling days of old at Punchestown yesterday making every post a winning one from the front under David Mullins..
"This was kind of the last-chance saloon. The two of us were on the gallops the other morning and we looked at one another and thought 'that's him gone'. I don't know how slow he came up," his trainer said.
"We turned away and we said "Well, we'll run him anyhow." He fooled me all year. A few times I thought he worked very well and he's come out and worked terrible. What a horse. It's extraordinary. It showed he has the heart. He still has an engine."
You can never write off an animal of his class and the immense pleasure was etched all over the faces of Mullins and owner Rich Ricci - amazingly having his first winner of the week.
The future could have been so different as a disappointing run might have left grounds for retirement but now the options are endless with Mullins even contemplating a novice chasing career turn while the Stayers' Hurdle could also now be on the cards.
"If he had finished down the field yeah we probably would have said 'you know what it's probably time to do that' (retire) but it didn't happen. As long as they're racing and enjoying their racing, he'd be a right novice chaser wouldn't he? Mullins said.
"He obviously didn't enjoy two-mile hurdling because of the pace, do we want to subject him to three-mile races on heavy ground? I'd rather go novice chasing maybe. It'll be fun to decide what we're going to do."
Ricci, choking back the tears for a horse near to his heart after his Champion Hurdle win three years ago, said: "You can't make it up. It's magic, the ball hasn't bounced our way all season so to have something like this with some a great horse, it means everything. He loved it."
Having watched his nephew Danny also get in on the act aboard Cadmium (12/1) in the Pigsback.com Handicap Chase earlier in the day, it got even better for Mullins later in the day.
Footpad (2/5 favourite) finished his novice chasing season in fine style to remain unbeaten over fences and scorch to success in the Grade One Ryanair Novice Chase under Daryl Jacob as the Carlow handler collected the spoils from his former owner Michael O'Leary.
Mullins was non-committal about his targets for next season with the Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase and Gold Cup all possibilities as Wexford pilot Jacob was left purring about his limitless potential.
"He is turning into the real article now. I spoke to Ruby (Walsh) after Cheltenham and he loved him, and Paul (Townend) has loved him as well. When those two guys have high compliments, that goes to show and hopefully he is going to be the real deal," Jacob said.
Mullins lies on 12 winners after three days - remarkably all for different owners - and looks set to be crowned champion trainer for a 12th time after saving the best until last to overhaul Elliott, who took the opening JLT Handicap Hurdle with Park Paddocks (6/1 favourite).
That was Jack Kennedy's first winner of the week and the sole Elliott winner on day three after a Mullins barrage which has left his trainers' title challenge in tatters - the Meath trainer trails by €424,148 having led by approximately €520,000 just three days ago.
"We need a miracle! I'll keep smiling, I just wanted to lay down and cry yesterday. We're on the back foot but if you give up in this game you'll win nothing, we've got to keep our heads up," a defiant Elliott said.
The La Touche Cup over the famous banks course had the 20,204 in attendance on their feet right until the final stride as the JP McManus-owned and Enda Bolger-trained pair of Auvergnat (11/4) and Josies Orders (5/2 favourite) fought out a pulsating finish.
Donie McInerney's mount Auvergnat came out best by a neck but cheers quickly turned to tears for the winning connections as the fifth-placed Cantlow collapsed and died in the shoot on the way back to the parade ring.
Having watched the race from the infamous 'Ruby's Double' and followed the horses back in, it was a shocking sight to see as Mark Walsh's mount suffered a heart-attack and passed away within seconds.
Watching Tracey Piggott abandon her RTÉ interview with McInerney mid-sentence and burst into tears - just days after her regular work partner and Irish Grand National hero Our Duke suffered a similar fate at Jessica Harrington's yard - was an uncomfortable experience.
Stewards and medical staff - led by Turf Club Chief Veterinary Officer Lynn Hillyer - deserve great credit for their speed and competency in an equine emergency - and it was fitting that Walsh would quickly dust himself off to steer A Great View (7/1) home in a driving finish of the Alanna Homes Handicap Hurdle, an hour after losing a horse he cherished.
"I got off him after the line and took the saddle off him, it was just one of those things. I had to come straight in and weigh out for the next race, everyone knew by the time I got down for the next race. It's unfortunate to lose a good aul stalwart like him," Walsh said.
"I won a banks race on him here and I won a race on him over the banks at Cheltenham, he'd been good to me and it's sad to lose him like that. He was so genuine, he just ran his heart out, he gave it everything and just paid the price.
"That's the ups and downs of the game unfortunately. It's sad when it happens but you just have to put it out of your mind and get on with the next, you have to concentrate on the next race, that's just the way it is.
"Everyone was brilliant down there and very professional, they did everything that had to be done. It's sad, you always hate to lose a horse like him or any horse.
"I loved him, he was a great aul' horse, you get attached to horses like that."
Rachael Blackmore clinched a second winner of the week aboard Dot Love's Dawn Shadow (10/1) in the Listed Close Brothers Mares Novice Hurdle as last year's champion conditional showed all her skill in the saddle once again.
Mullingar trainer Love is currently holidaying in New Zealand but no doubt she was ecstatic to hear of the news some 18,000km away.