Wicklow Brave takes the last in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle
Image by www.healyracing.ie
Patrick Mullins made a bold move to kick Wicklow Brave into a clear lead which ultimately proved unassailable, as the pair bravely won the Grade 1 Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle this evening.
A field of eleven lined-up for a fascinating renewal of this contest, with the Trainers’ Title still very much up for grabs between Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins.
Once again all eyes switched to the enigmatic Labaik at the start, to see if he would consent to jump off with the rest of the field, something he had failed to do on Tuesday in novice company.
As the field approached the start, Davy Russell tried to cajole the grey, but ironically, it was the other grey Diakali, in very similar colours, who proved recalcitrant and was withdrawn.
At the off Labaik jumped off in mid-division, as Identity Thief set the pace from Tombstone.
At the second flight Identity Thief and Bryan Cooper had opened up a commanding advantage, leading by four lengths from Tombstone with a gap back to Vroum Vroum Mag who led the rest of the field.
Racing to the fourth, Identity Thief still led but by a greatly reduced distance, with Wicklow Brave coming up to almost join the leader and this pair moved on by five lengths from Vroum Vroum Mag and Tombstone and then My Tent Or Yours.
With four to jump, Wicklow Brave went on and quickly moved ten lengths clear of Vroum Vroum Mag and Identity Thief and then My Tent Or Yours.
Wicklow Brave was clear at three out but the field started to close at the second last and he turned for home eight lengths clear with My Tent Or Yours chasing hard and then Brain Power.
Racing to the last Wicklow Brave was being pushed along and he led at the last with My Tent Or Yours, Arctic Fire and Brain Power closing and racing furiously, just followed by Labaik.
But Wicklow Brave and Patrick Mullins kept up the gallop in game fashion and while it got desperate late on, the pair held off My Tent Or Yours by about a length and a half, with Arctic Fire third and then Labaik and Brain Power.
The eight year old Wicklow Brave was adding a hurdling Grade 1 victory to a cv that already boasted a County Hurdle success and an Irish St Leger.
“Patrick winning this race means so much to me, the prize money was not what was on my mind,” said the successful trainer.
“The horse took off and Patrick had enough sense not to fight him. He got the horse jumping well and they flew over the jumps. Turning in I thought that if Patrick could maintain it and not make any mistake then he had a right chance.
“Patrick started at the back but I think Wicklow Brave might have run away with him going down the hill. He won the Irish St Leger from the front and Patrick really got him jumping down the back. He pinged hurdles and was gaining lengths. I thought he was cooked after the second last but Patrick got a right good jump at the last. You could see Patrick eyeing up a big one and he hit him taking off. It was all or nothing.
“We put the blinkers on because he can dwell and we didn’t know what was going to happen at the start with Diakali, Labaik and Wicklow Brave. We thought it could be carnage!
“For an amateur to do something like that is very special. For his size I don’t know how he does it. To do that here means so much.
“I had the horse entered at York on the Flat next week but I thought he was needed more here. In another year he might have gone there. I’m delighted for his owner Nick Peacock, who is a very loyal supporter of the yard.”
Patrick Mullins added: “I am very grateful to Nick Peacock for letting me ride the horse. He nearly stood still at the start, but while he was going forward I didn’t want to take him back. I said I would take a chance and let him enjoy himself.
“Wicklow Brave has always threatened to do this. I rode him here one day when he was third behind Faugheen and Nichols Canyon. It is nice to ride a Classic winner over hurdles!
“He jumped so well and is so quick over his hurdles – he is like liquid. I am very grateful to everyone at home for making it happen.”
The length and a half runner-up was My Tent Or Yours. The J P McManus-owned 10-year-old was finishing second for the third consecutive occasion, having occupied the same position in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Aintree Hurdle this season.
His trainer Nicky Henderson said: “My Tent Or Yours deserves one but nobody is going to get off and say ‘after you, because you deserve it.’
“The other runners come back tomorrow but My Tent goes straight to Martinstown for his holidays. Three festivals is very hard to do and he deserves it.
“He has been a legend throughout his life but to come back at this age and run three races like that is great. It won’t get any easier for him to win one but it won’t stop us trying.”
Mullins’ championship rival Gordon Elliott earlier saddled Definite Ruby to win the €75,000 Hanlon Concrete EBF Glencarraig Lady Mares Handicap Chase over two miles and five furlongs.
“We needed that! There was plenty of pressure coming into the week but we have had a great season no matter what happens,” said Elliott.
“She won the race last year and we said we’d train her for it again. Jim (Power), her owner, has been very patient and it’s great it worked out.”
Rider Jack Kennedy added: “It’s great to get a winner. Definite Ruby is a star of horse. She won this same race last year but obviously had more weight this time around. She is so tough.
“I am after getting three falls the last three days and I was stood down for the rest of yesterday. It is nice to get a change of luck.”