The brilliant Un De Sceaux lit up the opening day of the Punchestown Festival with a typically brilliant display that saw him make it back to back victories in the Grade 1 BoyleSports Champion Chase.
The hugely popular eleven-year-old looked to have his work cut against his stablemate Min but he produced a thrilling display to notch up a fourth victory at this meeting. The Edward O’Connell-owned gelding did battle with Min for much of the race but that one had no answer when Paul Townend and Un De Sceaux moved on after the third last fence.
The crowd favourite turned for home with a useful lead and once he cleared the last the stage was set for the eleven-year-old to record another great success. Un De Sceaux defeated Min by four lengths and there was a further 38 lengths back to third-placed Castlegrace Paddy.
“It was some adrenaline rush, he was brave as a lion. I asked him plenty of questions, the fuel tank was running low coming to the last and after asking a horse so many times, probably the wrong thing to do is the opposite to what you have been doing, but he figured it out himself,” said Paul Townend.
“What a warrior. He is a horse of a lifetime. The way he races, to keep coming out and putting in performances like that – I was actually a bit worried when I got to the start, because he was a bit dead in himself doing the parade but once we lined up he came alive under me. That was some buzz,” added the rider.
Equally thrilled was Willie Mullins who stated: “He’s a great favourite and I thought that was just an incredible performance from an eleven-year-old to do that in a race like that. He’s a horse with incredible energy and he’s like that every morning, I just don’t know how he does it”.
“Paul said he was a passenger for three quarters of the way and that’s just a great feeling for a jockey to have. I thought that the ground was against Un De Sceaux but he came here a fresh horse and that’s helped him. Min was possibly a little flat after Aintree but maybe at this stage of his career he wants an extra half mile too.”
The first of the week’s Grade 1s, the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle, went to the irresistible duo of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh as Klassical Dream followed up last month’s victory at Cheltenham. favourite took over the lead from the pace setting Felix Desjy before the straight and went on to record an impressive five and a half length success.
Ruby Walsh, who was winning this race for the fifth time, commented: “He was quite hot in the preliminaries and I left the ear plugs in today. I took them out in Cheltenham, and I wasn’t gone a furlong today and I was wishing I had taken them out again. He jumped super most of the way. I probably took it off Jack (Kennedy, Felix Desjy) soon enough, but I never got to him at Aintree and I wanted to be sure that I would get by him and put the race to bed.”
“This horse is a top-class novice, he won his maiden at Christmas, won at the Dublin Racing Festival and went to Cheltenham and has come here, what more else can he do. He has a huge future. You would imagine that he should mature for a summer’s grass and should improve again. He is a very good horse,” added Walsh.
Willie Mullins was equally impressed with the efforts of the winner and indicated that he may keep him over hurdles next season.
“He is a very good horse and maybe we will look at going down the Champion Hurdle route next season,” said Mullins.
“He was very good today and did everything Ruby asked him to. Ruby felt he probably was too relaxed but I was actually pleased to see him settle the way he did,” continued the champion trainer.
Delta Work capped a strong finish to day one for Gordon Elliott as he eased to victory in the Grade 1 Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase.
The Gigginstown House Stud-owned six-year-old lost his unbeaten record over fences when third in the RSA at Cheltenham but he ended his season a high under Davy Russell. The 13/8favourite cruised through the race and was still on the bridle as he eased away from the field facing up to the last two fences. Delta Work finished a dozen lengths ahead of Discorama with third going to the Cheltenham winner A Plus Tard.
“We were disappointed in Cheltenham that he got beaten but today was his day and Davy gave him a great ride. I’d say the softer ground made the difference,” stated Elliott.
“It’s great to get a couple of winners on the board this early in the week and this horse is one to look forward to for next year. I’ll speak to Michael and Eddie (O’Leary) but I would imagine we will try and go down the Gold Cup route,” added the trainer.
Earlier Elliott won the Goffs Land Rover Bumper for the third time as the €30,000 purchase Festival D’ex began his career in the best possible fashion. Top amateur Jamie Codd sent this four-year-old to the front with over a furlong to run and Festival D’ex ran right away from his rivals to win by ten lengths.
“It’s great for John (Doyle, owner), he is a great supporter of the yard. He is into all the marts and is more known for the cattle, but he has invested a lot of money in horses. Bobby O’Ryan advises him on what to buy and what not to buy and this is his local track. This is a very nice horse for the future,” said Elliott.
Pearl Of The West gave locally born trainer John McConnell his first winner at this fixture in the Killashee Handicap Hurdle where she was partnered by Robbie Power. The 12/1 chance defeated Cosmo’s Moon to record the seventh victory of her career and her biggest success to date.
“She’s just such a good jumper, hurdles make a big difference to her. I was worried about the ground with the rain that fell this morning but it was fine for her and the race worked out really for her. I suppose we’ll have to consider looking at some big handicap hurdles in the future,” said McConnell.
As he has done on so many occasions in the past Enda Bolger supplied the opening winner of the week but not in the order expected as the Ray Barron-ridden Blue Templar upstaged his odds on stablemate Youcannotbeserious in the Kildare Hunt Club Fr Sean Breen Memorial Chase For The Ladies Perpetual Cup. The first two home are owned by J.P. McManus.
“The second is probably a classier horse but Blue Templar’s experience here probably swung it for him. We’ll have to see how he comes out of this but I’d say the winner might be back here for the La Touche Cup on Thursday,” commented Bolger.
Meanwhile the winning rider added: “It was brilliant, he lights up over the banks. You couldn’t be riding over them for a better fella in Enda (Bolger), so it makes my job a lot easier, and it’s also great to ride a winner for Mr McManus. I have had a couple of go’s around here but it’s great to get a bit of luck, it means a lot to me. This is where you want winners, it is the highlight of the year and it is great to get it here now”.
Front View rounded off the day’s action in the Sanctuary Synthetics Flat Race where he provided J P McManus with his second winner of the day. The Joseph O’Brien-trained and Derek O’Connor-ridden grey battled on bravely for the last furlong to defeat Jungle Junction by a length.
The attendance on day one of the Punchestown Festival was 17,464. Racing returns on Wednesday where the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup is the feature on an eight race card which begins at 3.40pm. Ireland’s two highest rated chasers, Al Boum Photo and Kemboy, will clash in the race of the season so far.