The first meeting of the new season at Punchestown was a far cry from the festival a few weeks ago, but some things never change.
Willie Mullins continued his seemingly endless winning run on Saturday, nabbing the spoils in the first and last races at the venue.
Limini set the ball rolling with a narrow victory in the opening two mile maiden hurdle.
A three-time winner on the level in her native France, the four-year-old was reported to be schooling well over hurdles so it came as no surprise to see her start a warm favourite in this 23 runner contest.
Jockey Paul Townend was content to track the leaders early on and, although a shade deliberate at some of her hurdles, she was bang in contention jumping the second last flight.
It was then that Townend asked her to go about her business. Although not exactly fluent at the final hurdle, the duo kept on well to land the spoils by half a length from the rank outsider Sandymount Duke.
On paper at least this looked a decent effort, as it looked a respectable contest. The winner showed that she was not afraid to battle when it was needed and she is certainly one to keep on the right side of when the season hots up in the Autumn.
The Robin Des Champs gelding Potters Point, who has hit the crossbar on a couple of occasions when an odds-on favourite, finally came good when he ran out a convincing winner of the bumper to complete the Mullins brace.
Once again shouldering the favourites tag, the five-year-old took no prisoners as he was sent to the front right from the drop of the flag by the trainer’s son Patrick. The combination held off all-comers to take the money by four and a half lengths from Don’t Touch, with a further eight and a half lengths back to the well fancied Lip Service in third place.
A fine big scopey horse, the winner wandered about a little when he was asked to race in the home straight but was never in any danger of defeat. He is out of a King’s Theatre, which suggests that staying will be his game and even at this stage he looks all over a chaser.
Potters Point was part of a three-timer for Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud. Real Steel landed the two mile 118-140m handicap chase while The Game Changer ran out a most impressive winner of the two mile beginners chase.
Although he was good enough to be placed in a Galway Hurdle there were plenty who questioned the resolve of The Game Changer when it came to a battle, however different riding tactics seemed to work a treat.
Rider Davy Russell had him in front before the jumping the first fence and he grew in confidence as the race progressed, having no less than 13 lengths to spare as he crossed the line.
Formerly under the care of Charlie Swan until he scaled down his operation, The Game Changer is now trained by Gordon Elliott who revealed he fitted the horse with a tongue -tie and was pleased that the different tactics worked out so well.
Although there is nothing set in stone Elliott expects to keep the eight-year-old on the go over fences for the Summer and see how things work out.
Mouse Morris has been enjoying a good start to the new season and he was on hand to greet Real Steel after he battled well under a cracking ride from David Mullins.
Settled just off the pace, the seven-year-old hit the front before the third last fence. Mullins had to sit tight when he made a mistake at the final fence, but the rider soon had him back on an even keel. He regained the advantage in the dying strides and took the money by half a length from Foildubh, who was just a whisker in front of the gambled on Mister Hotelier.
In his post-race remarks Morris revealed that the winner would ideally prefer a longer trip, but he is game as he showed when recovering from his mistake. With a twinkle in his eye, Morris suggested that the Galway Plate could be a target.
Noel Meade and Paul Carberry, a potent force at the venue, kept their legion of followers happy when combining to capture the maiden hurdle for five-year-olds and over with Champoleon.
Coming from off the pace Champoleon was right on the money turning to face the judge. Once Carberry popped the question he showed an impressive change of gear, going away to win unchallenged by four and a half lengths from Caledon Craic.
Well-regarded by connections, the winner has taken his time to come to hand but he can pay to follow, especially when he goes chasing.
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