Faugheen had lived up to all the hype at Cheltenham with a brilliant display but matched that every inch of the way in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.
This was a display that crowned an exceptional champion novice who dropped in distance and looks a very serious threat to all in next season’s Champion Hurdle if he does down that route.
He dictated from the start as stable mate Wicklow Brave whipped round and lost several lengths and gradually Ruby Walsh wound up the tempo down the back straight.
The Liquidator was the first to start to come under pressure at halfway and whilst Valseur Lido still travelled well in second and Western Boy and Real Steel were in close company, Faugheen kicked turning for home and quickly put a lot of distance between himself and his toiling rivals.
At the second last Wicklow Brave fell when out of contention and Faugheen simply stretched away in the home straight, looking every inch a champion.
A sound jump at the last saw Faugheen coast home very, very easily as he extended his record to seven wins from seven. Valseur Lido stuck to his impossible task admirably for second ahead of Sgt Reckless, as Westerner Boy tired late on.
It took just two races for Punchestown 2014 to catch fire and it is hard to envisage a more impressive winner all week.
Carlingford Lough back to form
Carlingford Lough, a winner of the Galway Plate and Topaz Novices’ Chase earlier in his novice chasing career, bounced back to that level of form with an excellently timed run in the Growise Champion Novice Chase.
John Kiely’s 8 year old had unseated at Leopardstown and then disappointed when only sixth in the RSA Chase but was well on top at the end of this 3 mile 1 furlong contest.
Letter Of Credit and Djakadam were withdrawn leaving a field of five and it was Morning Assembly who set off in front with Don Cossack, with Ballycasey in third ahead of Carlingford Lough and Mozoltov.
The leading pair drew a few lengths clear of Ballycasey at the third and the order remained the same down the back straight. With 4 to jump the same pair led with Ballycasey and Carlingford Lough closing and leaving Mozoltov behind.
All four had a chance with 2 fences to jump in the home straight and it was Ballycasey who made the first significant move, joining and then passing Morning Assembly who quickly weakened out. However AP McCoy had still to play his hand and produced Carlingford Lough to join Ballycasey at the last fence before drawing away on the flat. In behind Morning Assembly made a bad mistake taking a lump out of the fence but managing to stay on his feet but appeared well beaten at the time.
Carlingford Lough is a tough, admirable stayer who looks likely to contest the big Grade 1 chases next season and keeps coming good – and has done since last August when he won at Galway. Ballycasey’s stamina seemed to peter out and one wonders if he might make up into a Ryanair horse next term. Morning Assembly stayed on for third ahead of the well beaten Don Cossack.
Punchestown opens with a familiar feel
There was a sense of déjà vu about the opening contest over the Punchestown hills and banks as Enda Bolger and Nina Carberry landed the Kildare Hunt Club FR Sean Breen Memorial Chase – a cross-country race with Be Positive, in the JP McManus silks.
Lord Hawkfield, runner-up in 2013, led the field along with Enniskillen early on. The latter asserted at about the halfway mark with Ma Chara also prominent but drama ensued as the leader took the wrong course leaving Ma Chara in front from Commanchewardance and Be Positive, always close to the leaders.
Be Positive went on as they began the journey towards the home straight, closely followed by Commanchewardance and Ma Chara. At Ruby’s Double Commanchewardance jumped the better but Be Positive again reasserted, with plenty left in the tank – and was travelling strongly jumping the stuffed hurdle, three from home.
At the 26th and second last Ma Chara took a crashing fall leaving Be Positive and Commanchewardance to the fore but Nina Carberry asked the favourite a question between the final two obstacles and he lengthened away and jumped the last well, galloping on to an emphatic victory.
Second came stable mate Phar And Away who stayed on well and then came Commanche Wardance and Linnel.
Henderson enjoys Cool run at Punchestown
Cool Macavity recorded a first victory for the British raiding party at the 2014 Punchestown Festival as Barry Geraghty delivered a perfectly timed run to land the Bragbet.com Handicap Hurdle for Nicky Henderson.
City Slicker made a bold bid for victory and still led into the home straight and those immediately in behind were under pressure. However coming to the final flight Geraghty and Cool Macavity suddenly appeared down the outside travelling strongly and the race was quickly put to bed on the run-in.
City Slicker stayed on really well to last home for second ahead of Stocktons Wing and The Game Changer.
Willie Mullins Very Much in form!
Not content with Faugheen’s success, Champion Trainer Willie Mullins saddled the winner of the Goffs Land Rover Bumper in a thrilling finish, as Very Much So denied Nina Carberry’s own bid for a double at Punchestown.
Burton Hall and Baily Cloud lead a large, bunched field of mainly unraced horses into the home straight with Ustica in close contention. Burton Hall briefly led but the race was on in earnest and Ustica and Very Much So swept past, with the latter running on strongly
The last to challenge was Snow Falcon and Carberry and the pair looked a serious danger when the two horses collided inside the last furlong and Very Much So gained the day. Whatsforuwontgobyu ran on for third but the first two look smart prospects for later this year.
Forgotten Rules one to remember
Dermot Weld enjoyed Champion Bumper success at Cheltenham and looks to have another smart prospect on his hands after Forgotted Rules annihilated his rivals in the closing race on the first day of the Punchestown Festival.
Another big field of mainly unraced horses contested the closing Finlay Motor Group INH Flat Race but in reality only one horse mattered at the end.
The Gigginstown Hous Stud horse Disputed led from Rock N Rhythm early on with Ange D’Or Javilex just behind these and then Sizing John. As the field turned for home Disputed continued to lead but was suddenly swamped and the highly-touted Forgotten Rules, a 4 year old son of Nayef, swept through on the inside and romped away very easily. A long way back in second came Alamein and then came Art Of Security and Sizing John.