Un Atout and Davy Russell got back up to deny Jamie Moore and UbakPICTURE: Alain Barr (racingpost.com/photos)
Un Atout and Ubak fight out thrilling finish
Report: Punchestown, Friday
Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m4f, 4yo+
PONT ALEXANDRE'S withdrawal dominated the talk before the Champion Novice Hurdle, and no doubt diminished the allure of the contest, yet it is arguable his presence could have enhanced what proved to be a thrilling finish, with Un Atout rallying to get up close home and deny Ubak.
Un Atout led the trio along at a steady gallop on his first start up in trip, with Ubak second and Sizing Rio in third. It stayed like that for much of the contest, until, when turning for home, the front two dropped the Henry de Bromhead-trained five-year-old.
Un Atout looked to have Ubak in trouble off the bend, the faster horse bursting clear for Davy Russell, who was travelling better than Jamie Moore. Hard at work off the bend, Moore did not wilt, galvanising his mount and the Aintree Grade 2 winner worked his way back into contention, jumping the last upsides.
On the run in Moore appeared to assert, going at least a head up on his rival. Yet much like Moore on the home bend, Russell wasn't about to give up and the pair fought out a thrilling finish.
"He missed a couple of days with a stone bruise and I was a bit worried. He was good and I loved the way he came back," said Willie Mullins, who was completing a Grade 1 double after Hurricane Fly's victory in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle.
Despite all his previous form being at two miles, it was Un Atout's stamina rather than speed that saw him reassert close home, just getting the better of the prolonged duel up the home straight.
"My fellow dug in and 150 yards out I was sure I'd get by him," said Russell. "I think in the future he'll stay 3m. He jumped his hurdles in a way leaning towards chasing. That's where his future lies."
Paddy Power reacted by making Un Atout a 16-1 shot for next year's RSA Chase.
Ubak will also go chasing next season. "I'm disappointed he got beat, but he missed a week's work after Liverpool. He's very talented and will come back in the autumn as a novice chaser," said Gary Moore.