Mullins joy as Quevega meets little resistance
The week's single most anticipated duel failed to materialise in the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle at Punchestown yesterday, with Quevega left to saunter up under Ruby Walsh after Solwhit had to be withdrawn at the start.
Charles Byrnes' Cheltenham and Aintree hero was an 11/8 favourite to thwart Willie Mullins' brilliant mare's quest for a fourth successive triumph in the €105,400 Grade One. However, all the drama came beforehand, as Solwhit was withdrawn on veterinary advice after Davy Russell drew attention to blood on the horse's nose.
Subsequent investigations concluded that the source of the bleeding was superficial, but that came after race-goers were denied a mouthwatering heavyweight bout. Quevega took full advantage.
Having recorded her fifth Cheltenham Festival win in last-gasp fashion, this was a far smoother rout in ground that had officially turned heavy after 10mm of overnight rain. She travelled like a dream to draw five lengths clear of Reve De Sivola, a horse that is no mug, but which finished around the same distance behind Solwhit at Cheltenham.
"She answered Ruby's every call today and did what she had to do," the champion trainer said afterwards.
"She worked brilliantly last Saturday and that was the first time that I thought I had her really race-fit. It was unfortunate for Solwhit's connections, but I didn't wish he was there. As the old adage goes, keep yourself in the best of company and your horses in the worst!"
Quevega returned an SP of 6/4, but a Rule 4 deduction meant a loss of 40c in the Euro. Her 15th success was the highlight of a scintillating 624/1 five-timer for Mullins, with Walsh, who drew a blank on the first two days, netting a 191/1 quartet.
He finished up five shy of Russell in the jockeys' table, setting up a potentially nail-biting finale over the next two days. In the Ryanair Novice Chase, Cheltenham flop Arvika Ligeonniere bounced back to its best under the eight-time champion.
The Rich Ricci-owned 7/2 favourite is happiest going right-handed in deep ground and drew readily clear of Oscars Well and Special Tiara. Mullins suggested he would try to find similar domestic targets over two miles for the eight-year-old next term.
Walsh's first win came on top-weight Twinlight (8/1) in the handicap chase, after Russell denied him in the conditions hurdle with a smooth display from Colm Murphy's Rye Martini at 11/1.
JP McManus' Upsie (9/10 favourite) then out-battled stable-mate Twigline in the Orchid Mares' Hurdle to complete his quartet under a heavy downpour, as Patrick Mullins wrapped up his father's quintet and a Gigginstown double on 9/4 favourite Turnandgo in the bumper.
Earlier, Big Shu held on bravely under Barry Cash in a gruelling edition of the Avon Ri La Touche Cup.
Peter Maher's 9/2 co-favourite clambered over the last, but struggled across the line to follow up his Cheltenham heroics. Both Maher and Cash dedicated the victory to JT McNamara, the five-time winner of this who was left paralysed from the neck down after a fall in the race beforehand at Cheltenham.
The attendance came in at 16,116, up 21pc on last year's rain-drenched equivalent and 5pc on a more comparable 2011.