Cilaos strikes as Labaik refuses to take part in Grade 1 thriller
With the old unfortunate habit of digging his heels in at the start coming back to haunt the chance of Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Labaik, champion trainer Willie Mullins made hay, saddling a one-two with Cilaos Emery seeing off his better fancied stable companion and favourite Melon from the final flight, and in the process putting an €80,000 dent in Gordon Elliott's lead in the trainer's championship.
The race followed a semi-expected and unexpected pattern from the start. When Labaik refused to jump off, Melon under Ruby Walsh and Colin Tizzard's raider Pingshou went off at a terrific clip, probably too quickly ultimately, and it was Cilaos Emery that picked up the pieces when the two rivals in front of him had no more to give in the closing stages.
Labaik did manage to jump off a furlong or more behind the field and hunted around to be officially last of the seven runners. He certainly was not helped by activities at the start when the runners had to take another turn.
Elliott was not prepared to give his opinion on what happened with Labaik but was clearly frustrated by events. He did confirm though that they will have another go in Friday's BETDAQ Punchestown Champion Hurdle.
It was a fine display of tactical riding from Cilaos Emery's jockey David Mullins in the Grade 1 contest, who commented: "Cilaos Emery did everything right. He settled a lot better than he did at Cheltenham and everything fell into place. He has plenty of ability and he was a different horse today."
The winning trainer said: "I imagine that Davy Russell (on Pingshou) and Ruby took each other on down the back and I think Ruby really had to go with him in case Davy didn't come back. David was able to just settle behind them and come with a wet sail over the last which worked. I feel sorry for Melon because I could understand what Ruby was doing."
He added: "We decided to ride Cilaos Emery a bit differently today, and to wait with him a bit more and it certainly worked. I think he deserved it. He disappointed on his last couple of runs and we always thought he had more to offer.
"He was a bit keen at Cheltenham and he was even half unlucky on his last run here, but has a Grade 1 now and it's a great result too for his owner Luke McMahon, who is a great supporter of the stable.
"For Melon, he was beaten fair and square at Cheltenham on only his second run over hurdles, today they just cut each other's throats and there's still plenty of improvement in him. I'd expect both of them to stay over hurdles next season and hopefully be trained for the Champion Hurdle."