it's a big winters wonderland
The inimitable Mick Winters once again sparked scenes of pandemonium in the Ballybrit winner's enclosure after his modest Co Cork stable plundered successive wins in the Guinness Galway Hurdle with Missunited.
Following last year's narrow victory with Rebel Fitz – which initiated a fantastic 14/1 double on the card for the colourful Kanturk handler in the earlier novice chase – yesterday's triumph was less dramatic.
Robbie Power, who was winning the €260,000 (£224,370) showpiece 10 years after landing the Plate on Paddy Mullins' Nearly A Moose, kept it brilliantly simple on the versatile mare, which had been well backed in the ante-post market from an early show of 14/1 into clear second-favouritism of 7/1.
They sat just off the early pace, led touching down two-out and stretched clear in decisive fashion for a famous three-and-three-quarter-length coup from Flaxen Flare, whose jockey Davy Condon was also filling the runner-up berth for a second year in a row.
Make Your Mark and Drive Time took the minor honours behind Flaxen Flare.
Barry Geraghty, who rode Missunited in her last two hurdles, eschewed her here in favour of the market leader, Ted Veale.
Tony Martin's County Hurdle hero travelled ominously to the foot of the hill, but the tank quickly ran dry as he tired into eighth.
Missunited, on the other hand, devoured the homeward climb under just 10st 8lb, relishing a sodden surface that had turned heavy after monsoon-like rainfall.
"She is just a good mare and I genuinely fancied her to do the job," Winters beamed after becoming the first trainer since Paddy Sleator in 1958 to secure back-to-back victories with two different horses in what is now the richest jump race in the country.
"To be honest, I couldn't believe that Barry wouldn't ride her, because she has been in super form.
"Herself and Rebel Fitz are a great combination at home and we are terribly lucky to have their ilk."
Of the impending celebrations, Winters quipped: "Last year I had to muck out 20 stables in the morning, but I have a contingency team lined up for that job this time." He said that his nine-time dual-purpose winner would be aimed at a Curragh Group Three later in the month ahead of selective hurdle targets, with a tilt at the mares' race at Cheltenham in March the ultimate target.
A home-bred six-year-old that is owned by Winters' Kanturk neighbours Dan and Vanessa Hutch, Missunited has tremendous commercial and sentimental breeding value, as her dam died giving birth to her.
Power revealed that Andrew Lynch was pencilled in to sub for Geraghty until Viconte Du Noyer snuck in at the bottom for his retainer Alan Potts.
"I was actually meant to ride Miley Shah," he explained, "and thankfully there was no fuss made about my getting off him.
"Seamie Heffernan told me that this mare was brave and she is that.
"It seems a long time since I won the Plate, so it is fantastic to win the Hurdle as well."
Geraghty will have to wait another year before achieving a debut win in either of the week's features, but he had an armchair rider on Rebel Fitz.
The classy eight-year-old (evens-favourite) fenced fluently and cruised through the quagmire in sublime style.
"I did think about pulling him out, but it is so wet that I thought he'd slop away through it," Winters said after his original stable star completed a chasing hat-trick.
The Dessie Hughes-trained Golden Wonder (5-1) made a winning debut over fences in an attritional Perfect Pint Beginners Chase, scoring by three and-a-half lengths in the hands of Roger Loughran.
Hughes said: "He's a right horse. He won on good ground in Bellewstown and I thought he'd struggle on this ground.
"It's great to see him handle it because he's going to need to handle it for the rest of the winter now."
David Marnane's admirable veteran Maundy Money clinched his third Galway Festival win – five years on from his previous two triumphs – with a comfortable success in the Guinness Time Handicap.
Marnane said: "He's a legend of a horse.
"We bought him out of Mark Johnston's yard for £4,500 and he's won at three Galway Festivals now, two Listowel Festivals and two Killarney Festivals.
"He's won 10 races, he's 10 years of age and he's as fresh as paint."