Bellshill digs deep for Daily Mirror Novice honours at Punchestown
Bellshill showed talent and tenacity in equal measure to claim top honours in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.
Winner of the Champion Bumper at this fixture 12 months ago, the Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old won his first three starts over hurdles before disappointing at Leopardstown in February and Cheltenham in March.
However, he bounced back to form when only narrowly denied at Aintree earlier this month and he was the 2-1 favourite for his latest Grade One assignment.
Ruby Walsh rode a patient race for much of the three-mile contest before allowing Bellshill to close on the leaders before the home turn.
Coney Island proved a willing opponent, but the Mullins runner dug deep to win the argument by a neck. Sandymount Duke finished third.
"In fairness to him he was tough. He pulled up like mad in front and I was thinking halfway up the run-in I might have been in front too soon," said Walsh.
"It's taken us a while to work out he wants a trip. He works with so much pace at home we got a bit confused with him, but we seem to have it right now.
"The trip didn't bother me. The only worry I had was that he'd been to Cheltenham and Aintree, but he's a very good horse and he'll be a beautiful chaser."
Mullins said: "It was a very brave ride from Ruby. He'd a lot of ground to make up at the stone wall and he sat and sat.
"That's his third Festival run. He did the same last year, and came back and won here.
"I'm looking forward to going over fences next season. I know the owner would like to go for the World Hurdle but Shaneshill looks like he'll go for that.
"He looks an RSA Chase type if he's good enough.
"He was good over two miles on heavy ground in mid-winter but three miles seems to be his best trip now."