Willie Mullins’ Facile Vega triumphs in KPMG Champion Novice Hurdle
On the first day of the 2023 Punchestown Festival, renowned Irish trainer Willie Mullins marked his return to the races following a hip operation. His 4/6 favourite, Facile Vega, cruised to victory in the first Grade 1 race of the festival, the KPMG Champion Novice Hurdle. The six-year-old is the son of the legendary mare Quevega, who won four Ladbrokes Champion Stayers’ Hurdles at Punchestown. Facile Vega runs in the same ownership as his dam, and the Hammer & Trowel Syndicate members and extended connections were out in force to cheer him on.
Facile Vega overcomes a mistake to seal victory
Facile Vega survived a bad mistake at the third-last hurdle but was quickly back on track, moving alongside pace-setting stablemate Diverge. Dublin Racing Festival Grade 1 winner Il Etait Temps, also from Mullins’ stable, briefly threatened under jockey Danny Mullins. However, Facile Vega’s relentless gallop quickly put him out of contention, and he crossed the finish line with a seven-and-a-half-length lead. No Looking Back, a 66/1 longshot trained by local trainer Oliver McKernan, came in third, a further ten lengths back.
Mullins plans to start Facile Vega’s fences career
Mullins expressed his excitement for Facile Vega’s potential, stating that he has always thought highly of the horse and believes he has huge ability. He added that he plans to start him over fences next year, as he thinks that the horse will have more respect for the bigger obstacles. Facile Vega’s pedigree suggests that he can stay three miles, and Mullins plans to let the horse tell them how far he wants to go as he gains experience in the sport.
Bialystok takes the Killashee Hotel Handicap Hurdle
Mullins made it a double victory on the first day of the festival, with 14/1 shot Bialystok leading a Closutton 1-2-3 in the Killashee Hotel Handicap Hurdle. Danny Mullins rode the five-year-old to a one and three-quarter-length win over Tax For Max, with Tekao finishing third.
Jordan Gainford wins on Shecouldbeanything in the Howden Insurance Brokers Mares’ Novice Hurdle
The 2023 Punchestown Festival started with the Listed Howden Insurance Brokers Mares’ Novice Hurdle, and jockey Jordan Gainford made a dream return to action after suffering a fall at Cheltenham. He rode the Gordon Elliott-trained Shecouldbeanything to victory at 7/2 odds, overtaking Still Ciel approaching the last hurdle and finishing four-and-a-quarter lengths ahead of The Model Kingdom