The Willie Mullins year is set to get even better, after the trainer unveiled a live contender for the Triumph Hurdle in Analifet.
Sunday’s Punchestown card was easily the best of the jumping season to date, with three Grade One races, a Grade Two and a Grade C Handicap Chase down for decision.
Sweeping all before her, Analifet ran out a stylish winner of the opening Grade Three juvenile hurdle.
An impressive winner on her Irish debut at Punchestown, the daughter of Califet started at cramped odds but never gave backers any cause for concern.
At the head of affairs from as early as the second flight of hurdles, she upped the pace to come home six and a half clear of stable companion Noble Inn - a distance that could have been greater had jockey Ruby Walsh desired.
At this stage of the season the winner looks the real deal but we will have a better idea of her capabilities when she tackles Grade Two company at Leopardstown over the Christmas period. She handled the quick ground well and, according to Mullins, softer conditions would not bother her either.
Mullins and Walsh also sullied the favourite Alonso in the Grade One Royal Bond Novice Hurdle but this fellow was a shade disappointing - fourth was as good as he could muster behind The Tullow Tank.
Named after the well-known Irish rugby player Sean O’Brien, who had a share in him when he finished in his only point-to-point outing, The Tullow Tank who was supplemented for the race at a cost of €7,500.
He proved that this was a good investment by coming from mid-division to throw down his challenge going to the second last flight, reeling in the Mullins outsider Renneti in the dying strides.
Trainer by Philip Fenton, who was successful in this race with Dunguib, the winner looks a real good horse in the making. His hurdling improved as the race progressed and when push came to shove he was not found wanting.
In his post-race remarks Fenton revealed that stepping up in trip would not be a problem, but going left-handed might be. This will be put to the test at Leopardstown in January, after which Cheltenham plans will be discussed.
Don Cossack has been considered star material by his handler Gordon Elliott ever since the day he set foot in the trainer’s yard but after a bright start to his hurdling career his form tapered off as the season progressed.
With his size and scope chasing was always going to be his game and when he opened his account on his debut at Galway it looked like he had progressed the right way. However after looking all over a winner at Grade Two level at Punchestown he was caught close home by Morning Assembly which left many observers doubting his relish for a battle.
This assessment was certainly dispelled when he captured the Grade One Drinmore Chase over two a mile and four trip. Given time by rider Davy Russell the six-year-old got into contention turning for home before leading at the final fence. Running all the way to the line, he had a length and three parts to spare over Carlingford Lough.
On paper at least this was not as good a contest as it has been in the past but Don Cossack could only beat what was in front of him. The Jewson rather than the RSA Chase at Cheltenham would look the obvious target but he will have at least another outing - probably at Leopardstown - before a final decision is made.
Jezki emerged as a challenger for the Champion Hurdle with something of a workmanlike performance to beat the Mullins pair Zaidpour and Diakali in the two mile and a half Grade One Hatton’s Grace Hurdle.
Making his seasonal debut, the Milan gelding went to post an odds-on favourite under Tony McCoy. Paul Townend elected to make the running aboard Diakali and at one stage was the best part of a hurdle in front of the rest of the field.
The pack began to close turning to face the judge with nothing travelling better than Jezki. A couple of indifferent leaps at the final two flights cost him ground, but he had enough in reserve to take the money by a length and three-parts.
Winning trainer Jessica Harrington was pleased by the display but won’t make plans before sitting down with owner J.P. McManus about Jezki. She believes a strongly run two mile is his best trip, adding that Jezki is definitely better going left-handed.
While the present Champion Hurdle trails are throwing up new faces the one horse that they still have all to beat is Hurricane Fly. The reigning champion will not relinquish his crown easily.