Hurricane leads Mullins whitewash
Hurricane Fly landed a Rabobank Champion Hurdle hat-trick at Punchestown as he led home a 1-2-3 for the Willie Mullins stable.
Ruby Walsh held up the former Cheltenham Festival hero in last for much of the way, but was always plenty close enough in the testing conditions as stable companion Thousand Stars led the way.
Another stablemate, Zaidpour, looked a big danger as he swept into the lead on the turn for home, but Hurricane Fly (4-11 favourite) had reeled him in by the final flight and went away to score by two and a half lengths in a professional if not flashy manner.
Mullins said: "I was worried about him passing the winning post first time. I thought 'this guy is not enjoying this'. I think on reflection he just wasn't enjoying the real sticky ground. Ruby (Walsh) said when he asked him he did what he had to do.
"I thought he had a really hard race in Cheltenham and horses remember those things. It will be great for him to get his confidence back having won today and once the ground is better I think he'll be back to himself.
"He went to Cheltenham last year with four runs under his belt and very, very fit. Maybe this year he just didn't have that hard fitness that racing gives you and maybe that's what found him out. We'll be doing our best next season to get him out early and get runs under his belt and have him fit and well."
Of Zaidpour and Thousand Stars, the trainer added: "I think we'll go back to Auteuil with those two. Zaidpour ran a cracker and turning for home I thought maybe he was going to spring a surprise.
"Thousand Stars was full of running at the third-last, but he's had a tough season. He looked fantastic in the parade ring, yet he's been everywhere all year - he's never missed a beat."
Walsh said of the winner: "I'm relieved. From the time we jumped the first hurdle I was never happy. Halfway down the back I was kind of thinking to myself, 'I wouldn't mind being on Zaidpour', but in fairness to him (Hurricane Fly), pure raw ability and guts has won it for him.
"I wouldn't say he's anywhere near the horse that won in Leopardstown (Irish Champion Hurdle), he was more like the horse than ran in Cheltenham. He was lethargic in Cheltenham, he was lethargic again today, but pure ability has won him the day. When horses run as flat as he ran today, they don't win unless they're exceptional, and he did."