THE Willie Mullins-trained Diakali put himself in the Triumph Hurdle picture by destroying the opposition in the Grade Three Juvenile Hurdle at Punchestown on Saturday.
Having opened his account in impressive fashion at Gowran Park in November the French import was an odds-on favourite in spite of the presence of the Leopardstown scorer Flaxen Flare which many felt would provide strong opposition.
However, this was not to be as Diakali set off in front and quickened clear from the third last to hit the wire no less than 28 lengths to the good from Flaxen Flare, with a similar distance back to the third finisher Baby Jake.
No matter what way one looks at the race this must count as an impressive display. The only cause for concern would be that the winner missed out one or two of his hurdles, but in his post-race remarks Mullins cited the fact that his charge was a little free and rider Paul Townend was trying to get him settled. In the hurly-burly of the Triumph Hurdle he will not get away with such indiscretions, but if he gets the run of the race he will surely go close to bringing home the bacon.
To his credit Flaxen Flare attempted to stay with the winner, but his hurdling was not fluent enough to keep him in contention - once the pace was upped he was unable to respond. He is still a decent first season hurdler and will surely add to his laurels before the season ends.
Mullins later combined with his son Patrick to capture the two mile and four 86-116 handicap hurdle with Rockyaboya, but only after a desperate finish with Paco Jack.
The Rock Hopper gelding, which is also owned by Patrick, was easy enough to back. Although he set off in front he was strongly challenged by Leggy Lad. Going to the final flight the latter failed to get his landing gear down and came to grief. Rockyaboya then looked an assured winner until Paul Townend came flying aboard Paco Jack.
As the pair flashed across the line it was anybody’s guess as to who had won, but the photo showed Rockyaboya had prevailed by a nose.
Champagne Agent continues to disappoint and once again had to be content with second place behind Way Up In The Air in the two mile maiden hurdle for five-year-olds and over.
Always close to the pace, the seven-year-old was sent to the front by Paul Townend at the halfway point, but once Davy Russell produced Way Up In The Air at the final flight the complexion of the race changed completely. The Rock Of Gibraltar mare quickly gained the upper hand and was full value for her four and a half length success.
A Cork Bumper winner, Way Up In The Air was short of room at the first flight on her hurdling debut at the same venue and came down but made no mistake this time. Bred near Piltown by Joe Crowley and his daughter Ann-Marie O’Brien, on this evidence Way Up In The Air can go on to better things.
Racing got underway with a stylish success for Madam Bovary from the Jessica Harrington stable in the two mile and four beginners chase.
Having posted a couple of nice efforts over the bigger obstacles, the daughter of Old Vic had a good following in the betting market. After chasing the leaders she moved to the head of affairs three out and ran on strongly to land the spoils by four and a half lengths from Toon River.
Speaking post-race Ms Harrington said that the winner is a brilliant jumper and is on the upgrade. She will now be aimed a Listed Mares event in an effort to gain some valuable black-type which would be of considerable benefit to her when she retires to the paddocks.
The stewards held an inquiry into the running and riding of the fourth-placed horse Gallant Oscar. They suspended jockey Roger Loughran for seven days, fined trainer Denis Quinn E2,000 and suspended Gallant Oscar for 42 days having deemed that the horse was not ridden to achieve the best possible placing.
This decision looked harsh in the extreme as the seven-year-old had no real form of note but ran on past tired horses after the last fence. An appeal is most likely as connections felt that they were hard done by.
Back in the days when Punchestown was just a two-day spring meeting the Conyngham Cup was one of the feature races. The event has lost some of its appeal, but in an effort to restore it to its former glory it has been renamed the Amateur National and is now run over three mile and a furlong.
Victory in the race went to the handicap debutante Panther Claw under Mikey Fogarty. The runner justified plenty of stable confidence with the win, but had his share of luck as the Philip Rothwell runner Current Recession was bang in contention when he departed the scene at the second last fence.
It proved to be a welcome change of luck for Fogarty who has been plagued with injury for the past year or so.