There may not have been many British runners at Punchestown this week but they registered a second feature-race success when Harry Fry’s Noel Fehily reversed the Cheltenham form with Nichols Canyon to win the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers’ Hurdle on Thursday.
A day after Sizing John’s thrilling Gold Cup, this was a hurdle race to match it, as Unowhatimeanharry turned into the straight in front under Noel Fehily, with Ruby Walsh a length behind and seemingly waiting to pounce when he wanted.
But the more Nichols Canyon quickened, the more Unowhatimeanharry fought, and he steadfastly refused to be passed, getting home by a head.
“He’s bounced back,” said Fry, who admitted he was so disappointed with his third at Cheltenham that he has yet to watch the video of that race.
“Two brilliant horses – neither deserved to lose that. Noel was brilliant and he was brave when he needed to be. These days are special especially after the disappointment of Cheltenham. He didn’t run badly there it just wasn’t his day. Punchestown has been lucky for us.”
He was not wrong there; he and Fehily won the next with Minella Awards.
Willie Mullins may be thinking the Irish trainers’ title is not meant to be this year, after finishing second in the three feature races, beaten by a short head on Wednesday and a head on Thursday.
Cumulatively the cost of those two head-bobs was €200,000 toward his tally, which would have been enough to put him in front of Gordon Elliott last night. As it is he trails by €150,000, but is creeping ever closer.
Coneygree, a close third to Sizing John in a terrific Coral Gold Cup on Wednesday, spent the night after the race at the veterinary centre on The Curragh, but was given a clean bill of health and discharged on Thursday morning.
“He got a bang on a hind leg and we took him as a precaution to have him X-rayed given his record with injuries,” said trainer Sara Bradstock. “But he was sound this morning and he’ll travel home tomorrow.”
Amberleigh House, who gave trainer Ginger McCain a record-equalling fourth Grand National in 2004, has died aged 25, having developed complications following a bout of colic.