Blue Lord narrowly got the better of Coeur Sublime in a thrilling battle for the Barberstown Castle Novice Chase at Punchestown.
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 Ones 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.”
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.”
Anthony Honeyball opened the account for the UK team when Lilith ran out a cosy winner of the Close Brothers Irish EBF Mares’ Handicap Chase.
The 8-1 winner was ridden by Rex Dingle, who was making his first ever visit to Ireland, although Honeyball is a regular visitor and had tasted success at last year’s Festival with Sully D’Oc AA.
Honeyball, who also saddled sixth-placed Deja Vue, said: “We felt the ground might be a bit quick for her, but they do such a good job here watering it and it was definitely still on the easy side. We had no options at home for her so it was this or not run.
“We had a winner here last year as well and love coming here. We’ve done well in the handicaps here and had another one beaten a short head and a neck in a similar race.
“The gallop they went up front, we could have all fallen in a heap, she ran a cracker.
“It was all about today, we’ll give her a summer break now and see how she progresses over fences next season.
“She’s still on an OK mark. There is a £35,000 race at Hereford in mid-December that we might have a go at.”