Runaway Vauban eases to victory on the final day of the Punchestown Festival

He won a third successive Grade 1 in the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Vauban and Paul Townend after their win in the in the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle

Vauban confirmed his status as the best four year old in the business by claiming the final Grade 1 of the Punchestown Festival, writes Jack Lacey-Hatton.

His smart performance in the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle, resulted in yet another top class win this week for the prolific combination of Willie Mullins and Paul Townend – their seventh big race win of the Festival.

It was a fitting finale to the season for the pair, on the day they collected their Champion Trainer and Jockey titles for the season respectively. 

Vauban did have to work to get past the tricky challenge of rival Fil Dor, for Gordon Elliott, but once Townend made his move the result was never in doubt.

With Davy Russell in the saddle, Fil Dor had led for much of the contest. 

But the eventual winner moved level as they headed towards the last hurdle, before clearing it nimbly and powering away for a comfortable victory. 

Right from the moment the flag was dropped the other four contenders looked like they had been cast firmly in supporting roles, with Paul Nolan’s HMS Seahorse eventually coming home to finish a distant third.

But it was all about Rich Ricci’s latest star talent who once again showed his class to win comfortably – his third grade of the season after earlier successes at Leopardstown and the Cheltenham Festival’s Triumph Hurdle

Jockey Champion Townend said Vauban’s win topped off a ‘surreal’ week, in which he won seven Grade 1 contests.

“It is surreal to be honest," he said. It really is the stuff of dreams.

“To be in the position I’m in, to be riding for Willie and the team at home. 

“I’m the lucky one who just gets to see them around the track. But surreal is probably the word for it.

“His inexperience got him beat the first time I suppose. It is obvious to see he was in a work in progress, but he is getting better with every run.

“He (Vauban) is getting professional in what he does and produced some really slick jumping today.

“Davy wanted to get us keen early and take the sting out of us, but he was professional.”

Mullins added: "Paul (Townend) said he's starting to get down and hurdle properly now. He settled in and changed gear when he wanted to. 

“It was an automatic change of gear and he looks hugely exciting. He has serious gears and he's only just learning to race."

Earlier in the day, English raider Marie’s Rock crowned off her season in style by winning the Mares Champion Hurdle on the final day of action at the festival.

The 10-1 shot ran down Mullins’ Stormy Island, who had cleared the last with a healthy lead, to nick the Grade 1 contest while favourite Epatante also chased down hard only to finish third. 

An expert ride from Danny Mullins ensured Stormy Island dictated the pace, and then looked to have had kicked away from field.

For a moment it looked as if she would repeat her impressive New Year’s Day win at Cheltenham, but it was not to be.

Instead it was the seven-year-old with Nico De Boinville in the saddle, who made light work of the two mile three furlong test, and produced an impressive run for home to fight off stablemate Epatante.

Henry de Bromhead’s Tellmesomethinggirl, who won the mares’ novice in 12 months ago, was expected to throw down a challenge but fell on the fifth flight from home with Rachael Blackmore in the saddle.

He has serious gears and he's only just learning to race - Willie Mullins