Dreal Deal continued his remarkable winning sequence as he sprang a shock on his first attempt at Grade Two level with victory in the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle.
Ronan McNally’s six-year-old drifted in the market and was sent off an unconsidered 22-1 shot at Punchestown to post his sixth successive victory, over hurdles and on the Flat.
But after being held up last early on in the two-mile contest, he surged from well off the pace to lead just after the final flight and prevail by a decisive three lengths from the Willie Mullins-trained Ganapathi, under Denis O’Regan.
Gordon Elliott’s 11-4 favourite Magic Tricks came under pressure leaving the back straight and was eventually last of six finishers.
Dreal Deal’s progress through the ranks has been astounding this season.
The former maiden point-to-pointer began it as an apparently exposed performer, without a victory in 11 attempts under both codes, yet is since unbeaten – having broken his duck over hurdles from a handicap rating of 84 at Navan in September and won here at level weights from a field full of the big yards’ most promising novices.
McNally now has his sights on Cheltenham and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
He said: “He won’t be going to the Dublin Racing Festival in Leopardstown and will probably go to Cheltenham now. I think he’s entitled to go there now.
“If we have to go for a lesser race in between, we will do that, and if not it will be straight to Cheltenham.
“He will probably go for the Supreme, but he will be entered in the Ballymore as well. That was the dream, but he had to go and do that today.
“He’s done it now – so we can dream!”
The victory was made all the more remarkable because Armagh-based McNally revealed the build-up had been far from ideal.
He said: “We had a poor preparation, because he got a stone bruise during the week and that’s why he didn’t go to Fairyhouse (on Tuesday).
“All my horses were a wee bit off around Christmas, so they got a week off – and then with the frost, they missed work as well, so to be honest he’d done no galloping.
“Also his coat wasn’t great the last couple of weeks, and he hasn’t eaten as well he could. Nothing really was clicking, but we needed to get a run into him, and I knew anything he did today that he’d go forward from it.”
O’Regan added: “He can travel real well, but it just takes him a while to get going – and thankfully he got going in the straight. He’d a good jump at the last and won all right in the end.
“He’s definitely entitled to step up into higher company again, and it’s something to look forward to. Well done to Ronan and the team.”
On a day that did not go quite as he would have hoped, with defeat for Ganapathi and the first-fence exit of Asterion Forlonge in his clash with Envoi Alle, Mullins did at least leave with a double.
Frere Tuck (11-4) was the first Closutton winner, in the Punchestown Maiden Hurdle, after which Mullins said: “He choked the last day, and the tongue tie made a big difference to him today.
“Better ground would suit him well as he progresses through his career, and he’d have no problem going back up in trip.”
Brian Hayes did the steering on Frere Tuck in the absence of Paul Townend, with Rachael Blackmore aboard Klassy Kay (13-8) in the Punchestown Onwards and Upwards Mares Handicap Hurdle.
Mullins said: “The form of her third at Clonmel the last day has worked out well.
“Going up in trip is suiting her as well, and she’ll have to go up a bit in grade now.
“I think as we go into the spring, drier ground will suit her – and she might be able to win a nice handicap at one of the spring festivals.”