Jetson triumph has wily Russell purring
Outgoing champion claims World Series Hurdle with tactical masterclass
Outgoing champion jockey Davy Russell contrived to bring Quevega's sensational record to an end with a tactical masterclass on rank outsider Jetson in the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle.
After scraping home from her stable-mate Glens Melody in securing an unprecedented sixth victory in the mares' hurdle at Cheltenham in March, plenty felt that Willie Mullins' brilliant mare would prove vulnerable in a decent edition of Punchestown's three-mile Grade One.
However, if those who backed her into odds-on favouritism on the day were told that she would beat At Fisher's Cross, Glens Melody, Fingal Bay and Reve De Sivola, they might reasonably have expected to collect.
They wouldn't have reckoned with an alliance of the exquisite Russell and Jessica Harrington, who were combining for a first success together by denying Quevega a fifth triumph in the race with Jetson, an unconsidered 20/1 shot that had won just once in his 14 previous handicap hurdle starts.
More than that, the Ger McGrath-owned and bred nine-year-old was lowering her colours for a first time in 10 starts stretching back five years, and Mullins subsequently confirmed that she had run her last race. Quevega was as brave in defeat as she ever was in victory.
However, connections were left to rue the frustrating manner in which it came about.
In a slowly run race, Walsh didn't get the clearest passage through from the rear. When Quevega finally got daylight, she took a while to hit full tilt, as is her wont.
An inspired Russell, who ended the day with a spectacular 1,133/1 treble, had been alive to the way the race was unfolding.
The brilliant Gold Cup-winning rider sat just off the early leaders, and grabbed the race by the scruff of the neck from the three-out.
He wound it up all the way home, stealing a march on Quevega, which was reeling in the gap hand over fist on the way to the line.
There was just a length-and-a-quarter in it at the death, as Jetson emulated his three-parts brother Jezki with an unlikely victory at the very highest level.
"That's a pleasant surprise," Harrington admitted.
"We only ran him in the race because there was nothing else here for him this week. He loves the spring, though, and that ground.
"I said to Davy that he hadn't really got a chance, but that he stays well, so he was excellent on him."
Asked if he felt like a party pooper, Russell quipped: "It depends on whose party you're going to! It didn't feel like a fluke.
"Obviously, we didn't think we were good enough to beat the mare, but we thought we'd get involved."
Of Quevega's defeat, a philosophical Walsh said: "She landed in a heap at the second-last and the winner got away from me.
"Instead of being three lengths down, I was seven down, and I just didn't have enough time to make up the ground."
Jetson's win was the second of a scintillating a 3,464/1 Harrington treble, after Barry Geraghty landed Macnicholson (10/1 co-fav) in front on the line in the opening Colm Murray Hurdle.
Robbie McNamara bookended the day for the Moone handler on High Stratos (14/1) in the bumper.
Geraghty has been insatiable all season, but he eschewed the mount on Jetson in favour of the eventual seventh, Reve De Sivola.
He soon sweetened that pill, again swooping late on the English raider God's Own to cause another 25/1 shock in the card's other Grade One, the Ryanair Novice Chase.
"That was nice," he admitted after reprising his recent niche as super-sub extraordinaire.
Of losing out on a Grade One with his old ally Harrington, he added:
"You can't ride them all and I was delighted for Jessie. I certainly wasn't looking on hoping that the second horse would catch him."
Champagne Fever misfired in the Ryanair, but the Tom George-trained God's Own was second to Balder Succes when last seen at Kempton in February.
Balder Succes missed two-out here, but he was still there in a thrilling three-way joust to the line, with Russell also hindered by a last fence mistake on the fast-finishing Moscow Mannon, which failed to get up by just a half-a-length.
Little else went wrong for the Cork man. He timed his run on Tim Doyle's Mallowney (11/1 into 8/1) to a nicety in the Three.ie Handicap Chase, and again established a decisive lead on Des McDonogh's Jim Bolger-owned Morga (5/1) to deny Vicky De L'Oasis in the mares' novice hurdle.
Doyle's smart novice had not been out of the frame in any of his five completed chasing starts and the Thurles handler felt the application of a hood was key on this occasion.
"He always travels well, but he settled better in the hood today and that helped him finish his race out better," he said.
Rising star Ger Fox enjoyed an emphatic success in the Avon Ri Corporate & Leisure Resort La Touche Cup on John Kenny's 25/1 shot Jacks Island.
"I thought he had a great chance," said Kenny, who is based in Tullow, Co Carlow.
"Sam Twiston-Davies fell off him at Cheltenham in November, but he would have been in the running if that hadn't happened. Ger was brilliant on him today."
Attendance of 16,158 was pretty much on a par with day three in 2013.