Punchestown Attracts Record Attendance as Henderson Caps a Memorable Week
In front of a record attendance of 37,206 on Saturday, a fine Punchestown Festival for the English contingent continued as Fusil Raffles gave Nicky Henderson a second Grade 1 victory in as many days in the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle.
Fusil Raffles, who was ridden by Daryl Jacob, was kept off the track with injury after making a winning English debut in a Grade 2 at Kempton in February produced a battling effort to get the better of the front running Fakir D’oudairies.
“He picked up a horrible injury at Kempton and it’s been a great team effort to get him here. I wasn’t sure if he was mentally or physically ready for this but he’s a tough horse and a good one. It’s a funny game as the week after he got injured at Kempton a found a horse hiding in a corner somewhere called Pentland Hills (winner of the Triumph Hurdle and a Grade 1 at Aintree)!,” commented Henderson.
Willie Mullins continued his domination of the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle – a race he has won every year bar one since 2013 – as Benie Des Dieux justified her position as the 2/5 favourite.
The front running Stormy Ireland tried hard to stretch her stablemate but she gave best before the final flight and the Paul Townend-ridden winner stayed on powerfully to the line to come home nine and a half lengths clear.
“I thought there might be an upset on the card. Stormy Ireland ran cracker and she was just getting away. Paul wasn't cruising past her like I thought he would and he said to me he felt the ground was drying up every minute. Benie Des Dieux just wasn't relishing the drier ground but she got the job done,” said Mullins who will consider a French Champion Hurdle bid for the winner.
Mullins was crowned champion trainer for the thirteenth time during the afternoon and he ended another memorable campaign with success in the €100,000 Ballymore Handicap Hurdle.
Indeed, Mullins enjoyed a 1-2-3-4 in the final race of the season open to professional jockeys but it was his son and champion amateur Patrick Mullins who came home in front as Mr Adjudicator stayed on stoutly. Contingency, Dorrells Pierji and Stratum filled the places.
"It was just an exceptional performance," suggested the winning trainer. "I thought when he was tracked back at the stone wall that he'd never get into the race again, and then Patrick got up Danny's inside and he started coming back into the race at the second last, and then he missed the last and I just said that's it, curtains. He just got stuck into him and to pick up with that sort of weight after belly flopping the last was an exceptional performance. He's just given me trouble all year, little niggles here and there but he's just come right at the right time."
"We've had a magic year but with owners like that (David) it makes our job so much easier because they haven't had any luck this year three horses with me and I think that's the first one that has cashed a check. We have a fantastic bunch of owners and great staff and that's what you need to run a show like this."
Mullins also paid tribute to his son, Patrick: "He (Patrick) was very strong on him to galvanise him after the last. That was the only horse in the race he could ride because of the weight, I don't know where he gets the commitment from to keep it. He puts a huge commitment to minding himself and its fantastic."
Jockey Sean O’Keeffe marked his recent return from a three month layoff due to injury as he teamed up with Cloudy Morning to land the BoyleSports Handicap Chase. The eleven-year-old relished every yard of this marathon trip to defeat Regal Encore by 18 lengths and continue a terrific run of form for trainer Declan Queally.
“The horses are really rocking at the moment,” commented the trainer’s son Declan. “This horse’s light weight and Sean’s seven pound claim over this trip was always going to be a help. The handicapper will have his say now but it doesn’t matter as it’s great to win a lovely pot like this. For an eleven-year-old to climb the handicap as much as he has lately is brilliant.”
After winning the opening race of the five day Festival Blue Templar made a successful return to action to land the opening Dooley Insurance Group Cross County Chase. Ray Barron was once again on board the Enda Bolger-trained and J.P. McManus-owned gelding who fought off his stablemate Josies Orders by three quarters of a length.
“The owner has been patient – he was an eight-year-old maiden at the start of the week,” said Bolger. “He loves good ground and excels over the banks and hopefully we might have him back to run in the La Touche next year. It’s great for Ray who puts in a lot of work at home.”
Willie Mullins once again won the Lemongrass Fusion Leading Trainer Award while Paul Townend shaded the Lemongrass Fusion Leading Jockey Award by one winner over Robbie Power and Derek O'Connor.
The 2019 Punchestown Festival ended with a modern day record attendance for the racecourse of 37,206. That figure brought the total attendance for the meeting up to 126,880.