Mullins stars on Bacardys
Patrick Mullins produced a never-say-die ride to win the Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown aboard Bacardys (12/1).
Bacardys (black & yellow) jumps the last alongside Bunk Off Early
Last season's Aintree bumper winner had made a relatively slow start to his hurdling career, opening his account at the third attempt but improved from his maiden win to land the two-and-a-quarter-mile Grade One in determined fashion.
The six-year-old was one of six runners in the race for Willie Mullins who was seeking to win the race for the fifth time but his heavily backed market leader Saturnas, the Future Champions Novice Hurdle winner, was the first beaten.
The majority of the remainder of the 10-strong field were tightly grouped as they straightened up but Mullins was rowing along on board Bacardys towards the rear of the group.
Stablemate Bunk Off Early, making just his second start, appeared to be travelling better than anything between the last two flights but Mullins switched Bacardys towards his inside jumping the last to race between his stablemate and Brelade.
The Coastal Path gelding showed his experience as he responded to his rider's urgings to record a hard-fought by three-quarters of a length success.
Mullins said: "I'd imagine the way he stayed and jumped there we'll be looking for a trip. I'm delighted to get a Grade One with him for Shanakiel Racing (owners) and, of course, for Patrick as well.
"I didn't think there was much pace, but obviously there was huge pace as Patrick came from last.
"He's improving all the time. I needed to run him there to get experience into him as he had a hold up after Christmas. I'm actually surprised he stayed on the way he did. He obviously doesn't take a lot of training.
"His jumping was much better. Patrick said he jumped a little bit left, but it was a big step up in class for him. He's had point-to-point experience so he'll be fine and that race will bring him on hugely as well.
"I'd imagine the Albert Bartlett would be the one for him, but I have two or three others for the race so we'll see."
The champion trainer was also thrilled with the effort of the inexperienced runner-up, but disappointed with the performance of the favourite.
He added: "I'm delighted with Bunk Off Early. He jumped well and he'll improve hugely for jumping at that speed, as that was only his second run over hurdles.
"We think of him more as a two-mile horse rather than two-and-a-half or three. The way he travels we'll be going for the shorter options.
"Saturnas was never going. We'll go and investigate that and see what's up. I thought he'd like this heavy ground, but maybe the ground didn't suit him."