Thousand proves star turn
Ruby guides favourite home in Punchestown feature as Mullins secures four-timer
On a Punchestown card that saw the unstoppable Willie Mullins bring his haul of winners for the week to 13 with a scintillating four-timer, the champion trainer's Thousand Stars cruised to an effortless triumph in the Morgiana Hurdle.
Despite having scratched his star hurdler Hurricane Fly from the €48,000 two-miler on Wednesday, Mullins' second string proved plenty good enough, making all under Ruby Walsh to draw five and a half lengths clear of Oscars Well, with Pittoni back in third.
Truth being told, with a mere four runners it was a poor renewal of the Ladbrokes.com-sponsored feature, and the popular grey, 13lb clear on official ratings, never looked in any real danger of being beaten.
Robbie Power tried his hardest to put it up to the long-time leader on Oscars Well approaching the final flight, but it proved a short-lived challenge, as Walsh eased the versatile favourite clear to score at odds of 5/4.
Successful in the French Champion Hurdle over three and a quarter miles in June and in last year's County Hurdle at Cheltenham, this was Thousand Stars' first Grade One win on domestic soil.
"He did just what I was hoping he would, and no more," a suitably restrained Mullins admitted afterwards. "He will probably go for the two-mile Grade One at Leopardstown over Christmas next, but I'd say the Aintree Hurdle over two and a half miles and the French race would be his two main targets again."
Walsh completed his own treble on Mullins' Dare To Doubt (5/1 joint favourite) in the handicap hurdle after the partnership had got the exchanges off to an ideal start when So Young justified odds-on favouritism to canter up in the three-runner conditions race.
"He's a stronger horse than last year, and we are very pleased with that," Mullins said of the latter five-year-old -- quoted as low as 12/1 for the World Hurdle at Cheltenham by Paddy Power -- before confirming that he too would now head for Leopardstown.
The first graded race on the card was the two-mile Craddockstown Novice Chase. Won in 2009 by Sizing Europe, it was the reigning champion chaser's trainer Henry de Bromhead who again supplied the first home here in Days Hotel.
Owned and bred by James Treacy of Waterford's Treacy's Hotel, the clean-jumping Oscar gelding was backed from 3/1 into 5/2 before the off. Once Andrew Lynch sent his mount on turning out of the back, only Lucky William posed any sort of threat.
But that one hung a little under Barry Geraghty, as Days Hotel confirmed himself an improving sort by forging clear from the last fence. "That was brilliant," de Bromhead said. "They went a real good gallop, he jumped great and stayed at it well. He'll go to Leopardstown now for the Grade One over Christmas, ground permitting. Soft ground is important to him, but then there is no shortage of that here."
Similar comments were attributed to Last Instalment. A bloodless winner of the Grade Two Florida Pearl Novice Chase for Philip Fenton and Davy Russell, the six-year-old is Leopardstown-bound for the three-mile Grade One.
Having taken a lead early on from fellow Gigginstown Stud representative Four Commanders, Russell joined issue four-out on the 8/11 market leader. The son of Anshan reached for the penultimate fence and then had a good look at the last, but never came out of third gear to maintain his 100pc record over fences.
Asked if drier conditions might rule out a tilt at the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in March, for which Last Instalment was cut to 14/1 from 20/1 by Boylesports, Fenton responded: "We'll feel our way with him, but I'd say soft ground is important to him."
Russell followed up on the fancied Tony Martin-trained Dedigout (5/4 favourite) in the maiden hurdle, while Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown colours made the winner's enclosure for a third time courtesy of Make Your Mark (13/8 favourite) in the bumper.
A point-to-point winner in April, that one completed Mullins' four-timer under the trainer's son Patrick, and was the sixth favourite to oblige on the day.
Meanwhile, yesterday's meeting in Cork was postponed due to the track being partially flooded. An inspection was carried out on the Mallow track on Saturday, and it was deemed unfit for racing.
Elsewhere, Ferdy Murphy has reported Kalahari King to be none the worse after pulling up sharply in Saturday's Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot. The 10-year-old was still travelling strongly when Graham Lee felt his mount had gone wrong and he was taken out of the race before the ninth fence.
But the French-bred gelding was soon sound again and Murphy is now eyeing a crack at the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on December 8. "He's sound this morning and it's a bit of a mystery what happened," said Murphy.