Brilliant Bapaume hits big time with decisive victory for Mullins
A season-long arm wrestle between Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott finally and decisively swung in the titleholder's favour when Bapaume landed the Grade 1 juvenile hurdle at Punchestown on the concluding afternoon of the season.
Despite the many back-slaps of congratulations after the success that made him virtually impossible to catch in the race to become champion trainer, Mullins was not being led into a false sense of security despite the inevitability of the outcome.
'No more bets' the bookmakers shouted, but Mullins didn't listen, taking nothing for granted until the trophy was back in his grasp.
"People tell me it's over and others tell me it's not," he said. "I haven't been doing any adding or subtracting and won't be saying anything prematurely."
Bapaume did his talking on the track and was brilliant. The Triumph Hurdle third travelled sweetly throughout and took up a prominent position under Ruby Walsh rounding the home bend.
Sent into the lead before the last, he put in a fine leap at that flight and was always holding the late challenge of Landofhopeandglory, back to form in second.
There was a further break to Meri Devie – a stablemate of the winner – in third, while the Gordon Elliott-trained 9-4 shot Mega Fortune could finish only fourth.
Mullins, who was completing his fifth straight victory in the race, said: "I think we got the tactics right. Mega Fortune was the one to try to beat and it worked out well.
"Bapaume has kept his form all season and is a fantastic horse who I imagine will stay hurdling next season.
"Whether he can go up a grade next season remains to be seen as it's always tough for juveniles the following year. We'll keep him on board and see."
Paddy Power introduced Rich Ricci's Bapaume at 33-1 for next season's Stan James Champion Hurdle.