Top-class bumper horse Kilcruit suffered a second successive shock defeat as Journey With Me maintained his unbeaten record in the Pigsback.com Maiden Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Hugely impressive at last season’s Dublin Racing Festival, Kilcruit was narrowly denied by stablemate Sir Gerhard in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham before reversing that form at Punchestown.
The Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old was beaten at odds of 1-14 on his hurdling debut at Cork last month and was the 4-9 favourite to bounce back on day four of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.
Ridden by Paul Townend, Kilcruit tracked Henry de Bromhead’s point-to-point and bumper winner Journey With Me for much of the two-and-a-half-mile contest, but it was clear from the home turn he was struggling to bridge the gap.
With Rachael Blackmore in the saddle, the leader galloped all the way to the line to prevail by three and a half lengths from Minella Crooner, who beat the disappointing Kilcruit to the runner-up spot.
Betfair cut Journey With Me to 5-1 from 12-1 for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
De Bromhead said: “I’m delighted with him – he’s a lovely horse. He obviously won his bumper well and his point-to-point and he did it really well there.
“He’s won a maiden hurdle and there’s still a long way to go, but I’m delighted with that.
“He’s bucked the trend of our Christmas anyhow, one of the few to buck it, so that’s great. It must mean he’s a good horse if he can win this week!”
Royal Kahala lunged late to claim top honours in the Grade Three Advent Surety Irish EBF Mares Hurdle.
Narrowly denied by the reopposing Dysart Diamond in a Listed event at Punchestown last month, Peter Fahey’s 11-4 chance went one better with a neck verdict over Heaven Help Us under Kevin Sexton.
“We’ll keep her to the mares’ races this season and next season when she goes over fences, I think she’ll really come into her own over two and a half or three miles,” said Fahey.
“She’s been in great nick. She had a great comeback run and I think she’ll improve again from today.
“That (Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham) will be the plan and she’ll have a run somewhere before then.
“She’s just different gravy at home. The more rain that comes between now and Cheltenham the better.”
Sexton went on to complete a double aboard the Tony Martin-trained Good Time Jonny (6-1) in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Novice Handicap Hurdle, before The Nice Guy (evens) sent favourite backers home happy by landing the concluding Plusvital Flat Race.
The victory means Willie and Patrick Mullins teamed up to win all four bumpers run at Leopardstown, while the champion trainer has saddled a staggering 15 winners in total across the four days at Leopardstown and Limerick combined.
He said: “It’s tremendous for Patrick to win the four bumpers. It’s a good thing he’s on our team and we’re not having to pitch up against him every day!
“I thought we had a really good bumper team and I think Patrick felt the same, so I’m very happy.”
Of The Nice Guy, Mullins said: “We were going to go jumping with him after he won at Fairyhouse, but he’d have had to take on Sir Gerhard or Kilcruit.
“The maiden hurdles are so hot here we said we’d stick him in the winner’s bumper and see what it turned out like. I’m delighted to get two bumpers out of him.
“He’s six turning seven and he’ll probably go jumping in the new year.”