Klassical Dream landed the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown for the second successive year on Thursday.
Having returned from a lengthy lay off to win last year, he looked like being the dominant force in the division when beating Flooring Porter at Leopardstown over Christmas.
However, since then things had not gone to plan for Willie Mullins’ eight-year-old as he was beaten in the Galmoy Hurdle and faded into fifth in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham having looked a big danger going to the last.
With Flooring Porter not running, Sire Du Berlais – who beat Gavin Cromwell’s dual Stayers’ Hurdle hero at Aintree – was his main market rival in the Grade 1 feature and the two were always keeping an eye on each other.
The pace, though steady, was set by Gentlemansgame and Vanillier, and Sire Du Berlais went between that pair just as they turned into the straight.
By now Paisley Park had become detached, only to run on again late, as is his wont, and Paul Townend looked confident on Klassical Dream.
The 11/10 favourite hit the front going great guns but then Robbie Power, who had just announced his intention to retire on Friday, came with a rattling late challenge on Ashdale Bob.
There was to be no fairytale ending for Power on this occasion, however, as Klassical Dream held on by a length and a quarter.
“Paul got him lovely and settled and relaxed at the start. Having so few runners in the race was a big help as he was able to settle him on the outside and keep him relaxed,” said Mullins.
“The horse races so much better when he does that. He gets a bit upset but he was very relaxed today in the parade ring, at the start and during the race. He’s maturing as he gets older.
“I’d imagine we’ll go the same route next year. I don’t think we’re going to go over fences, I think it’s easier to keep him sounder that way.”
An hour later Mullins and Townend were in the winner's enclosure again when Blue Lord ran out a narrow winner of the Grade 1 Barberstown Castle Novice Chase.
Blue Lord wins the Barberstown Castle Novice Chase (Grade 1) at Punchestown, beating Coeur Sublime into second place. pic.twitter.com/uUdGfxuOMS— RTÉ Racing (@RTEracing) April 28, 2022
Having disappointed slightly in the Arkle at Cheltenham when only third behind Edwardstone, he gained compensation in the colours of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede.
The race said plenty for Willie Mullins’ strength in the division when, despite the short-priced morning favourite Gentleman De Mee being a non-runner, he was still able to field Saint Sam, Haut En Couleurs and the eventual winner.
It was Saint Sam who took them along with Rachael Blackmore keeping tabs on him on Coeur Sublime while Arkle runner-up Gabynako and Blue Lord watched on.
Saint Sam blew his chance with a mistake at the second-last and by then Gabynako was outpaced and although Paul Townend looked confident on Blue Lord, Blackmore kept her mount going and only went down by a head to the 2/1 favourite.
Mullins has now won seven of the eight Grade 1s at the meeting so far.
“I was concentrating more on the horse in front, Saint Sam, and how he was jumping. He was fiddling a few of the fences and I was wondering if there was enough pace in front for this horse and Haut En Couleurs as well,” said Mullins.
“They quickened a bit about the fourth-last and I thought Saint Sam was running a cracker until he genuflected at the second-last.
“I couldn’t believe how much Paul pulled out of our fellow, I thought Coeur Sublime had stolen the race between the last two.
“Paul said to me he didn’t want to appear in front too soon because at Leopardstown when he appeared in front the horse looked all over the place and indeed he did that again today.
“Once he gets to the front he just thinks the race is over and he loses concentration. Paul timed it perfectly.”
Elsewhere, the 15-year-old Ballybroker Bridge won the Mongey Communications La Touch Cup for the second time – and was immediately retired by trainer Peter Maher.
The 14/1 chance had matters in hand from some way out under young jockey Tiernan Roche.
“We’re going to retire him now, that’s the end for him anyway,” said Maher.
“Hopefully I get another one that’s as good as him. He’s not the best horse but he wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s not a Big Shu but he’s been a horse of a lifetime for me, he’s a great horse.”
Father and son
The father and son team of Philip and Luke Dempsey teamed up to win the Specialist Joinery Group Handicap Hurdle with Broomfield Hall (10/1), holding off Harry Fry’s Gin Coco.
“I thought she’d run well. It was her first handicap, but she had a good bit of experience over hurdles. We were hopeful rather than confident,” said Dempsey senior.
“She won well in Naas and she’s been consistent. Luke gave her a great ride and it’s great to get it at a local track.
“It looked like she was beaten over the last, and she had to fight a bit turning in, but thankfully she came out the better side of it.”
A Great View (10/1) had not won since the corresponding race four years ago but took the Conway Piling Handicap Hurdle in fine style.
Mark Walsh kept Denis Cullen’s 11-year-old out of trouble and went wide the whole way but he still came home two and three-quarter lengths clear from Bugs Moran.
“Mark gave him a great ride today and things worked out so I’m delighted,” said Cullen.
“He won this race here before for me and when you come here and have one bullet to fire you try and put it where you can do the most damage.
“We always had faith in him. He likes it here and he likes that nice ground, it gives him a chance to travel and jump well.”