Mick Jazz was a shock winner of the Ryanair Hurdle as favourite Faugheen suffered just the second defeat of his career after being pulled up at Leopardstown.
Having looked as good as ever when making a successful return from a near two-year absence in last month’s Morgiana Hurdle, the 2015 Champion Hurdle hero was unsurprisingly a warm order to stretch his Grade One tally to nine as the 2-11 favourite.
The Willie Mullins-trained superstar soon adopted his customary pacesetting role, but it was clear heading out onto the second circuit it might not be as straightforward as many expected, with his stablemate Cilaos Emery taking over the lead. The nine-year-old dropped to the rear of the five-runner field on the run to the second-last flight and Paul Townend swiftly took him out of the race.
The career of the brilliant racehorse must now be in serious doubt but owner Rich Ricci said: “He’s not distressed or anything, Paul pulled him up because he wasn’t going anywhere. I just don’t know, hopefully we have a horse to come back and have another day with. There doesn’t appear to be any injury.”
Faugheen appeared sound afterwards but returned to the stables in a horse ambulance as a precaution.
The incident capped a dreadful month for the normally all-conquering Mulllins which started when Douvan was ruled out for the season on 18 December.
The stable’s Nichols Canyon had to be put down after falling in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown this week while Yorkhill was last and Dajakadam pulled-up in the Christmas Chase. Mullins’ crack novice chaser Min was also beaten at the meeting at 2-7 after being demoted at a stewards’ inquiry.
Faugheen’s shock exit left Cilaos Emery in front ahead of the Gordon Elliott-trained Mick Jazz (14-1) and it was the latter who found most from the final flight to claim a surprise victory under Davy Russell.
Russell said: “I was expecting a big run from Mick Jazz because he ran such a lovely race in Fairyhouse [fifth in Hatton’s Grace Hurdle] when he didn’t stay after I travelled well into the straight.
“I couldn’t believe Paul [Townend] just wasn’t travelling with the same zest down the back and then this lad jumped on the bridle. He had to be tough to pass Cilaos Emery but, to be fair, he landed at the back of the last and he just wanted it a bit more. He’s a tough horse.”
Elliott said: “Obviously Faugheen looked to be a certainty, but there is no such thing as a certainty in horseracing. I just hope he’s OK.
“It was Mick Jazz’s day. We went to Cheltenham last year and George Mahoney, who owns a half share with me, flew over from America with all his family for the County Hurdle and he was lame on the morning of the race.
“Today was his day in the sun. The plan was to go to America next year for all those jump races, but we’ll enjoy today and see what happens.
“He’ll have to have an entry now in the Champion Hurdle because you never know, but we’ll enjoy today first.”
He added: “There was no race to run him in, this was the only race we could really run in and we were running for prize-money. It just goes to show if you’re not in these races, you can’t win them. Today was our day and we’re delighted. He’s not a bad horse.
“I was sneaking away thinking we’d be second. Then we see Faugheen coming out and I had three in it, but Willie still had one in front of me! It’s our day today and we’re delighted.”