Hurricane Fly Champion again
Willie Mullins' Hurricane Fly beat stablemate Zaidpour to win a third consecutive Rabobank Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
It wasn't totally plain sailing for the 4-11 favourite, as jockey Ruby Walsh had to get serious on him turning for home.
However he jumped past Paul Townend and Zaidpour (9-2) at the final flight and from that point on never looked like being caught.
Thousand Stars attempted to make all the running in the four runner field under Katie Walsh but was brushed aside turning for home, although he still finished third culminating in a 1-2-3 for trainer Willie Mullins.
The other contender, Edward O'Grady's The Real Article, finished last.
The victory was the third consecutive win in the race for Mullins' star.
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 said: "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: "I'm relieved. From the time we jumped the first hurdle I was never happy.
"Half-way 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, to be honest with you.
"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.
"He got caught out in Cheltenham but he won today and summer at grass now to freshen him up, I think he'll be the horse we saw last year."
Stan James cut Hurricane Fly to 5-1 favourite from 6-1 to regain his Champion Hurdle crown at Cheltenham next March, while Paddy Power offer 11-2.