Puzzle solves Final conundrum
Bitofapuzzle clinched Grade One glory for Harry Fry and Noel Fehily with an impressive display in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final at Fairyhouse.
The seven-year-old was the 3-1 favourite on the strength of her third-placed finish in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last month and was ridden positively throughout the two-and-a-half-mile contest.
She showed a smart change of gear to put distance between herself and her rivals after the fourth-last and though it was hard work in the testing conditions in the straight, leading to some scrappy leaps at the remaining flights, she had the race in safe-keeping.
Bitofapuzzle galloped four and a quarter lengths clear for a resounding victory with Willie Mullins, who had saddled the winner of this race for the last two years, responsible for the second, third and fourth as Petite Parisienne led home Lyrical Theatre and Uranna.
Fry said: "She's been a star for us this season and they went a real gallop from the start. The conditions suited her and Noel pressed on from a long way out as she's a three-miler, really. She's as hard as nails and keeps improving.
"You never really know until you come here whether it's a race too far or not, but full credit to her as she's had a number of hard races this season. She'll have a proper break now, she's earned it and more. She's made for fences and will go chasing in the autumn."
Cheltenham Festival runner-up Shaneshill emphatically went one better in the Coolmore NH Sires Leading Light & Ocovango Novice Hurdle.
The Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old was the 4-9 favourite, having chased home stable companion Douvan in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last month, and travelled powerfully throughout in the hands of Ruby Walsh.
Having initially been dropped out, Walsh moved his mount closer to the speed with a circuit to run and it was clear from the home bend he had far more in the tank than his opponents.
The other Mullins runner, Outlander, emerged as a threat heading to the second flight from the finish, but an untidy leap saw Shaneshill open up a clear advantage and he never looked like being caught, coming home with 13 lengths in hand.
Mullins said: "I didn't think he'd go in the conditions as it's very tacky and soft, but he handled it very well. He'll go to Punchestown and, on that run, it looks like he'll stay at that trip. He'll go chasing next year."
The valuable Tattersalls Ireland George Mernagh Memorial Sales Bumper also went to the Mullins operation as Castello Sforza (9-2), partnered by the trainer's son Patrick, made a winning debut in the colours of Pearl Bloodstock.
Mullins said: "I've no intention of going to Punchestown with him. Maybe he could go for the bumper at the Curragh, but we'll probably put him away. This man (Sheikh Fahad) has got into the game to go jumping and the aim is Cheltenham next year. Whether that's for the bumper or over hurdles, we'll see."