Sizing Europe triumphs again
Sizing Europe claimed a heartwarming victory on what could have been his final career start at Punchestown.
Perhaps the most popular results of this jump season have been in the two-mile division and there was an Irish fairytale to follow events in Britain here.
At the age of 12, and a winner of exactly half his 42 starts, it appears retirement is on the cards for Henry de Bromhead's magnificently consistent chaser with owner Alan Potts keen for him to finish on a high.
A distant fourth behind crowd favourite Sire De Grugy in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Sizing Europe (7/1) won a novice hurdle at the 2007 Festival on the first of 16 visits to the Kildare course and he looked a horse with far younger legs as he bounded five and a half lengths clear of David Pipe's Ballynagour.
Sizing Europe has now picked up this race twice, having followed Sprinter Sacre home last year, and has an Irish Champion Hurdle on his overflowing CV as well as every two-mile chase of merit like the Arkle, Tingle Creek and Queen Mother.
The two market leaders disappeared from the equation at the first fence on the back straight when 100/30 favourite Hidden Cyclone fell and irreparably damaged the chance of Module by hampering him.
Sizing Europe had assumed his habitual front-running role under Andrew Lynch, at some points looking as if he was merely setting the race up for a younger rival, but burning away up the undulating home straight he knows so well.
In front of Punchestown's biggest ever first-day crowd of 19,459 - up from 18,605 last year - he was greeted accordingly.
Potts replied "yes" when asked in one interview if Sizing Europe would be retired, but slightly changed his tack in another one.
He said: "I could see him winning because there was nothing in that race that had beaten us. Somersby beat us once. We beat him the rest of the times.
"I'm not surprised, it's nice to witness it, but I always thought he could do it. He's back to his best."
Popped the question again, he said: "Possibly. We wanted him to go out on a win. He's got a win. We'll see."
De Bromhead said: "He is just unbelievable, he was running away with Andrew. He was just loving it. I'm speechless.
"The horse has just been a superstar for us, I've been saying it for years. He stays sound and enjoys doing it. He'd been working well all year but not been doing it on the track for some reason.
"He's just won a Grade One and I don't know what we will do, it is up to Alan. No decision has been made, I'm just going to enjoy today."
Lynch said: "This is just a brilliant day and he has been an amazing horse for me. He winged the last two and there I was today.
"He gave Sprinter Sacre a bit of a fright here last year and ran another tremendous race at Cheltenham."
Pipe said of his fragile Cheltenham Festival handicap star Ballynagour: "He ran an absolute blinder. It was a bit of an experiment dropping back to two miles but the ground helped him.
"He's never put two runs together in the past, let alone three, so it gives us lots of options for next year."