Jeff Kidder sprang a 22-1 surprise for trainer Noel Meade as he lifted the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle, the final Grade One of this year’s Punchestown Festival and the Irish jumps season.
Triumph Hurdle hero Quilixios was widely expected to supplement his Cheltenham Triumph Hurdle success and maintain his unbeaten record, but he was beaten a long way out under Rachael Blackmore.
His swift retreat appeared to have handed victory to Willie Mullins’ Cheltenham third Haut En Coleurs, but Jeff Kidder found plenty in the straight, collaring the Willie Mullins-trained runner before the last to go on to win by three-quarters of a length in the hands of Sean Flanagan.
Zanahiyr swooped late to grab second after getting a bit tight for room with the winner at one point, prompting a stewards’ inquiry that made no difference to the result.
Jeff Kidder was claiming his fourth hurdles victory, having won the juvenile handicap hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival at 80-1 before graduating to Grade Two company at Fairyhouse last month.
“I said in Fairyhouse, if he ever jumps them all he’ll be a really good horse and he did jump today,” said Meade.
“He jumped brilliant and he’s just never stopped improving. Since he came back from Cheltenham, he’s like a film star in the yard. The girls take him off to the beach for a dip and he’s become a star in the yard. I think he’s liking every minute of it.
“A real fast gallop really suits him, like they went in the Fred Winter and as they did there. They were coming back to him and his jumping was fantastic.”
Meade will now look to return to the Flat with Jeff Kidder, adding: “He’s going to have a little break, although I suppose he’s so well you’d think to yourself you should keep going.
“He’ll certainly have a run on the Flat, he’s never going to be a chaser.
“Now that he’s won that, he’s going to have to stay with the big fellas now, that’s his last chance to run in a four-year-old race, so he’ll have to wait until the back end to have a go again.
“It’s been a lonely old week up until now. I said Willie has been the easiest man to find in Punchestown as he’s been in the winner’s enclosure all week.
“To be fair he was the first one to congratulate me. I’m delighted, absolutely thrilled.”
Stormy Ireland (7-2) galloped her rivals into submission in the Grade One Coolmore Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle – chalking up Mullins’ 17th winner of the week.
Danny Mullins was eager to seize the initiative on the seven-year-old, who was one of four contenders for Willie Mullins.
Stormy Ireland bowled along in front and was still full of running with two to jump as 8-11 favourite and stablemate Concertista tried to reel in her handy advantage along with Minella Melody.
However, Mullins had plenty up his sleeve and the mare, who only recently return to Mullins’ care following an unsuccessful spell with Paul Nicholls, cruised home by to take a first top-level victory.
The Closutton handler admitted his surprise at Stormy Ireland’s progress following a victory at Fairyhouse last month and could now look at Flat targets with his charge.
He said: “She appears to have improved from Fairyhouse. It’s a great day for Danny, a nice double for him.
“That mare surprised me, how much she has come on from that.
“We’ll keep her in training, I don’t think she’s going to go to the breeding shed this year as she looks to have plenty left in the tank.
“I’m having second thoughts now about going chasing with her and maybe we could go back to the Flat with her.
“She’s by Motivator and it might be a safer career option than going chasing. I don’t think she’s going to improver her pedigree by getting black type over fences, she has enough over hurdles.
“If she could do something on the Flat, that would be better for her.”
Mullins made it 18 when the Brian Hayes-ridden Brahma Bull lifted the Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase, before Koshari grabbed another for the trainer in the Baroneracing.com Handicap Hurdle under Ricky Doyle.
Keith Donoghue made amends for an unfortunate incident on Thursday as he teamed up with Call It Magic (22-1) to win the opening Dooley Insurance Group Cross Country Chase.
The duo came unstuck in the La Touche Cup when Donoghue took the wrong course, but trainer Ross O’Sullivan thrilled to see the pair right the wrong with a half-length verdict over Ballyboker Bridge.
“I got an unbelievable kick out of that. I can’t believe it, he hasn’t won a race for four years,” said O’Sullivan.
“All the drama the other day and all the effing and blinding that went with it. I’m in shock. He battled and jumped brilliant.
“Racing is so funny with the twists and turns. Myself and Keith were at loggerheads with each other on Thursday, but we’re back today and he gave the horse an absolute genius of a ride.”