Exciting mare Echoes In Rain beat the boys with an impressive display in the eCOMM Merchant Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.
Trainer Willie Mullins had saddled seven previous winners of the Grade One contest, with Hurricane Fly (2009), Faugheen (2014) and Douvan (2015) among those on the roll of honour.
This year the Closutton handler fired a twin assault, with dual Grade Two winner Echoes In Rain the 8-13 favourite under the trainer’s son Patrick Mullins, and Blue Lord next best in the market at 15-8 in the hands of Paul Townend.
Bidding to bounce back from a final-flight fall when seemingly booked for second behind stablemate Appreciate It in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, Blue Lord set out to make all the running, with Echoes In Rain always in his slipstream.
The favourite took over the lead with relative ease on the run to the final flight, however, before kicking just over three lengths clear on the run-in.
Colonel Mustard (40-1) finished with a flourish to beat Blue Lord to the runner-up spot late on and deny Mullins a one-two.
Mullins said: “It’s a great start to the week for Patrick and for Echoes In Rain’s connections.
“She is a filly that’s improving as she learns about racing. She just made one mistake, and Patrick blamed himself because he didn’t want her to jump it as well as she was setting herself up to jump it because she was going to land there too soon, so he let her fiddle it.
“She’s a filly who has now won at the top level, and hopefully that’s where she’ll stay for the next couple of years.
“She could run on the Flat, but it’s taken us two years to settle her down, so I doubt I’m going to do that.
“I’d say we’ll probably stick to this jumping game. She’s learning how to pace herself jumping now, and you’d have to be happy with that.”
Asked whether he felt Echoes In Rain could develop into a Champion Hurdle contender, he added: “She’s improving every day and with every run and looks like she’s setting herself up to get a chance at it.”
The champion trainer soon doubled up, with the Conor McNamara-ridden Jazzaway coming out on top in a thrilling finish to the 50,000 euro Killashee Hotel Handicap Hurdle.
The 10-1 shot looked likely to be caught by the fast-finishing Call Me Lyreen as the post loomed, but clung on by a short head.
Mullins said: “I’ve lost a bottle of champagne to Richie Galway (racecourse manager) because he said we’d held on and I said we hadn’t. He said ‘I bet you a bottle of Bollinger’ and I said ‘fair enough’!
“It’s great for Conor, claiming his 3lb, to get a victory like that – and great for the owners.
“Jazzaway will be kept on the go. We’ll look for more opportunities for her, if we can.”
After the brilliant Chacun Pour Soi made it three winners on the card for the Mullins team in the William Hill Champion Chase, Adamantly Chosen brought up the yard’s four-timer with a debut victory in the Goffs Land Rover Bumper.
Ridden by Jody Townend – sister of champion jockey Paul – the 5-1 shot got the better of Springwell Bay by three-quarters of a length.
Mullins said: “Jody was very good on the horse. He was one of the bargain purchases of the sales (cost 24,000 euros), which just shows you don’t have to have huge money to get the winner.
“The whole family like winning around here – we sourced Adamant Approach after seeing him in a schooling bumper here. I think a half-brother to this horse might have won around here, too.”
Mullins made it five on the day with Colreevy in the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase.
Trainer Philip Rothwell enjoyed a memorable afternoon by saddling two winners.
Cousin Harry was a 25-1 scorer in the opening Have The Conversation Say Yes To Organ Donation Novice Handicap Hurdle, before 14-1 shot Singing Banjo landed the Kildare Hunt Club Fr Sean Breen Memorial Chase For The Ladies Perpetual Cup over the cross-country course.
After his first winner, Rothwell said: “I’m absolutely thrilled. We have three runners today, but I don’t have a huge number for the week.
“We’ve been really happy with Cousin Harry. He won very well in Navan and then we tried him over two-and-a-half in Fairyhouse. It was arguable whether he didn’t get the trip there or ran too keen.
“This fella has been great this year.”
Following Singing Banjo’s success, he added: “That’s absolutely magic. It’s great for the Walsh family (owners), and this has very little to do with me.
“He comes over a few weeks before he runs, and we ran him in a couple of hunter chases to have him ready for today.”