Willie Mullins ready to go the distance with Gordon Elliott after Al Boum Photo storms to victory in Ryanair Gold Cup
Willie Mullins vowed to keep up the fight in the race to be Irish champion jumps trainer as a Grade One double at Fairyhouse on Sunday afternoon helped him claw back some of the deficit on Gordon Elliott.
Al Boum Photo hit top gear late on to deny Shattered Love in the Ryanair Gold Cup Novice Chase, after the brilliant Laurina had earlier claimed the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final.
The Ryanair race garnered plenty of comment as only two trainers supplied all nine runners, with Mullins and Elliott dominating, and it was current champion Mullins who came out on top.
Elliott carried a 500,000 euro advantage into the weekend, but Mullins, who clung on to his crown with a late surge last year, was in the ascendancy, although Elliott did have four winners on the day, with three at Cork adding to Pallasator's Grade Two strike at Fairyhouse.
Shattered Love, who had beaten the boys in the JLT Novices' Chase at Cheltenham, was surrounded by three Mullins runners as they fanned into the straight, yet she was still travelling best of all for Jack Kennedy.
Hitting the front she appeared to have everything under control, with her 7lb mares' allowance set to look crucial.
However, 11-2 chance Al Boum Photo, a faller in the RSA Chase when Ruby Walsh aggravated his previously-broken leg, really got going under David Mullins and in the end won going away by a length from the 13-8 favourite. Invitation Only was seven lengths back in third.
When asked if the winner would be finished for the season, Mullins replied, "No. There will be very few finished for the year around our place. They will be heading to Punchestown, and I'd imagine it will be the same with a stable up the road (Elliott)!
"The mare (Shattered Love) was fantastic in defeat. She was up there battling it out with Up For Review, and then with Invitation Only. She then got done by the third one of ours."
Mullins added: "He deserved that, as he was unlucky at Christmas. David gave him a great ride and kept a little bit up his sleeve. It's nice to get a good winner for Mrs Donnelly.
"I think he wants a longer trip and that's why he was staying on at the end. I think the first four will all be three-mile chasers down the line."
Sent off the 2-11 favourite, Laurina added to her Cheltenham Festival success with a first top-level strike.
While the winning margin did not match her 18-length Cheltenham stroll, Paul Townend was able to sit motionless for much of the contest.
The only real moment of anguish came when stablemate Redhotfillypeppers fell at the head of affairs and Laurina needed to be nimble on her feet to navigate the trouble.
She eventually eased past another stablemate in Salsaretta and was never put under any pressure in winning by eight and a half lengths from the Elliott-trained Lackaneen Leader.
Mullins said: "I thought she was very good and it's great she has won a Grade One. She was cantering everywhere and just seems to be a lot better than the rest at the moment.
"If all is well we'll go on to Punchestown with her. We'll have to see how the other horses that ran at Cheltenham fare over the next few days. It's not going to be easy for them, especially on that ground as it's very tacky. She handled it well.
"She could go for a novice race at Punchestown. The mares' race is an open race, which would be tough. I'm going to leave it open and I wouldn't be worried about trip.
"She could go out to three (miles) easily and has enough ability to do two miles."
RaceBets gave Laurina a 10-1 quote from 12-1 for the 2019 Champion Hurdle.
Former smart Flat performer Pallasator was taking Grade Two honours for the first time with his victory in the Underwriting Exchange Novice Hurdle. Winner of the 2015 Doncaster Cup for Sir Mark Prescott, he had his attentions switched to hurdling late in life.
He is another in line for Punchestown, after finding more to beat Jetz by two and a quarter lengths.
Elliott said: "He's a good horse and would prefer better ground.
"He'll go to Punchestown, all being well."