Fiveforthree to take on world
Fiveforthree threw his hat into the ring for an increasingly intriguing Ladbrokes World Hurdle with a comeback victory at Punchestown.
For much of the season it appeared Big Buck's would just have to turn up to win the major staying hurdle prize for the third year in succession, but the challengers are suddenly mounting up.
David Pipe's Grands Crus impressed in Cheltenham's Cleeve Hurdle and now Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins has a fascinating hand with the talented Mourad set to be joined by an injury-plagued Fiveforthree.
The nine-year-old had been sidelined since striking gold at the 2009 Punchestown Festival 657 days ago, but travelled kindly throughout the Free Festival Upgrade Offer Ends Today Hurdle in the hands of Paul Townend.
Thirteen-year-old Newmill, winner of the 2006 Champion Chase, cut out much of the running, but Fiveforthree (4-7 favourite) loomed up menacingly in the straight.
Despite a less-than-fluent leap at the final flight, the grey soon began to stamp his authority and only had to be kept up to his work on the run to the line to score by four lengths.
The winning trainer's son, Patrick Mullins, said: "Dad said that he hopes he'll come back sound and that he'll go for the World Hurdle.
"He jumped a bit rusty but you'd expect that. Mourad and himself will go now for the World Hurdle and this fellow will make a nice spare ride for someone.
"The two of them should be bang there."
Victor Chandler have cut Fiveforthree to 20-1 from 33-1 for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham next month.
Another Mullins inmate who could be Festival-bound is Call The Police, who also rewarded odds-on backers in the Follow Us On Facebook Hurdle.
The 8-11 market leader arrived on the back of a fine second to stable companion Final Approach in Leopardstown's MCR Hurdle and had little trouble going one place better.
Townend exuded confidence throughout and having sent his mount to the front at the final flight, he pulled well clear on the flat to secure a six-length verdict over Heavenly Blues.
Harold Kirk, representing Mullins, said: "Willie was talking about the Coral Cup with him and though a performance like that might put him out of it, it's still an option.
"The other option would be to stay at home with him as he's a chaser for next year, though we'll try to win another hurdle with him first as that was only his fifth start on the racecourse."
Paul Carberry incurred the wrath of punters after appearing to deliver his challenge a little too late on Martin Scruff in the Hen Party Heaven at the Festival Handicap Hurdle.
The 1-2 favourite was still hard on the bridle jumping the final flight, but 16-1 shot Turnonthegas held a decent advantage.
Martin Scruff picked up once Carberry did get to work, but he was still a length behind at the line.
There was a thrilling finish to division one of the Festival Hospitality Maiden Hurdle, with 9-1 chance O Fortuna gaining a narrow verdict for Dessie Hughes.
Bryan Cooper's mount held a narrow advantage on the far side and while Fever Pitch and Princeton Plains came at him inside the final furlong, the leader held on by a head.
"If you go back to his Leopardstown run (fourth on debut) he'd have a chance," said Hughes.
"He had two bad runs since, though, and the last day I couldn't find anything wrong with him.
"On his previous run to that we found mucus. He's a nice horse and he should be better on better ground."
Bryan Cooper went on to complete a double on board 14-1 shot Avondhu Lady in the Punchestown.com for Festival Offers Mares Maiden Hurdle.
Noel Browne finished strongest to spring a 20-1 surprise in division two of the maiden hurdle.
Winning trainer Tom Cooper said: "That's a pleasant surprise. It's been one thing and another with him.
"He's not been right and he's a horse that's had a lot of respiratory problems.
"He was bang-on today, though."
Reizovic (8-1) edged out Hi Big Man in the concluding Rockview INH Flat Race.