Mighty Potter claimed a surprise victory in the Bective Stud Champion Novice Hurdle, highlighting a four-timer for trainer Gordon Elliott on the opening day of the Punchestown Festival.
A field of five runners went to post for the first Grade One of this year’s Festival, with much of the pre-race focus on the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Sir Gerhard and and Dysart Dynamo.
Sir Gerhard was the 4-7 favourite to supplement success in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, with stablemate Dysart Dynamo (13-8) – a faller in the Supreme – widely considered his biggest threat.
Dysart Dynamo adopted his customary front-running role from flag-fall, with Sir Gerhard and Mighty Potter always his nearest pursuers.
The latter was pulled up in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but raced with far more enthusiasm on this occasion, with Jack Kennedy doing a good job of keeping Sir Gerhard and Paul Townend in a pocket.
The gap came for Sir Gerhard before the home turn, but he was unable to keep tabs on 20-1 shot Mighty Potter, who fiddled his way over the final flight to seal a four-length verdict.
Elliott, completing a quick-fire double following the earlier success of Party Central in the opener, said: “It’s brilliant to win the first two races. I know it’s not going to be smooth sailing all week and when Willie gets going it will probably be like a steam train!
“I’m very lucky with all the support I have in the yard.”
He added: “Being honest, I thought Party Central was my best chance of the day. I was humming and hawing whether I’d run this horse. We walked the track a couple of times and said we’d take our chance.
“I thought Jack gave him a beautiful ride, he held his position the whole way. The horse is a chaser for the future and we’re very happy.
“He did the splits and was lame for a few days after Cheltenham, nothing seriously wrong with him but he just wasn’t right and came home very light.
“That was great and he’ll going chasing next year.”
Mullins said of his beaten pair: “Sir Gerhard was beaten here last year, so maybe he doesn’t like Punchestown, and Dysart Diamond had a heart fibrillation, so that’s what happened him.”
Elliott teamed up with Davy Russell to win the opening Howden Insurance Brokers Mares’ Novice Hurdle with 9-4 chance Party Central.
The six-year-old took over from the pacesetting Instit with a bold leap at the final flight and was always doing enough thereafter to score by a length and a quarter.
“That was great, she loves that ground. Davy gave her a great ride and it worked out great,” said Cullentra handler.
“Davy said he was happy the whole way. The one thing you don’t want to do is get to the front too soon as she idles. The plan was to be upsides at the last, but as soon as she got to the front she pulled up.
“We haven’t discussed it yet but I can’t see why she won’t jump a fence. She’s a nice mare and I’d say ground is a big key to her, she just doesn’t like real depths of winter heavy ground.”
Elliott then made it three from three on the day in the Killashee Hotel Handicap Hurdle, with Kennedy steering 11-1 shot Felix Desjy to a narrow success.
A Grade One-winning novice three years ago, the nine-year-old had been disappointing of late, but bounced back to land this fiercely competitive event by three-quarters of a length.
Elliott, who was serving a suspension during last year’s Festival, said: “That’s brilliant, the horses are running well and we’re absolutely delighted.
“This horse has been difficult but we’ve done a lot of work with him, doing different things at home.
“We’ll have a bit of fun with him now and I’d imagine he’ll probably go for the Galway Hurdle.
“This time last year I was in Portugal lying on a beach, but I’m a lot happier to be here.”
The trainer brought up his fantastic four-timer with 20-1 shot Absolute Notions emerging triumphant in the €100,000 Goffs Land Rover Bumper in the hands of Declan Lavery.
“We thought this was a nice horse, but he’s a baby and nearly like a breaker to be honest,” Elliott added.
“The few little bits he had done I had liked, but I didn’t think he had enough done to win. He’s a nice horse for the future.”
Following the earlier Grade One victories of Energumene and Capodanno, champion trainer Willie Mullins completed a treble in the concluding bumper with 11-4 joint-favourite Lisnagar Fortune.
A half-brother to Stayers’ Hurdle winner Lisnagar Oscar, the four-year-old stayed on strongly in the hands of Patrick Mullins to pick up stablemate Vadsa Queen before going on to score by four lengths.
Mullins senior said: “It was a very good performance, he was as green as grass and it took him all day to learn how to gallop up the straight.
“I thought Jody (Townend on Vadsa Queen) had the race stolen off the bend but once Patrick got his fella going, he got into gear and made up a lot of ground.
“He was only getting going as he hit the line, he’s a half-brother to Lisnagar Oscar so he looks sure to stay.
“He looks like a horse for the future for (owner) Denis and the Fitzgerald family. We’ll have a word and see what they want to do, but I’d imagine he’ll go jumping in the autumn.
“I’m very pleased to finish up on a note like that. The second filly looks like she should win before too long as well.”
The Richie O’Keeffe-trained Vital Island (7-2) scuppered a Mullins four-timer as he fended off Good Bye Sam in the Kildare Hunt Club Cross Country Chase for the Ladies’ Perpetual Cup.
“He loves it around here, he’s been second a few times but he did the job today. He loves the banks,” said O’Keeffe.
“We’ll see what way he is, but he might run again on Thursday.”