Mitchouka swooped late to grab the glory in the feature TRI Equestrian Handicap Chase at Leopardstown.
Sent off the 100-30 joint-favourite for trainer Gearoid O’Loughlin and jockey Ricky Doyle, Mitchouka looked booked for second as long-time leader Livelovelaugh jumped the last fence in the extended two-mile-five-furlong heat with a cosy advantage.
However, Mitchouka would not go down without a fight, battling all the way up the run-in and eventually poking his neck in front on the line to foil his fellow market leader. Valdieu finished a further three and three-quarter lengths back in third.
O’Loughlin said: “He’s a quirky little horse, but I knew he was well – and we seem to have found the key to him. The secret is not to do too much with him. That was the target.
“We dipped our toe in the Paddy Power over three miles just to see if we could have another option. On soft ground it stretched him, but I wouldn’t say he doesn’t stay either on better ground.
“Ricky has been massive and rides him in work. My girlfriend Rebecca rides him every day, and she said he was right.
“He could go to Punchestown, and the Galway Plate could be a target as well.”
Willie Mullins has bigger targets in mind for Royal Illusion (8-13 favourite), after she landed the TRM Equine Nutrition Mares Maiden Hurdle.
The nine-year-old, who won the Irish Cesarewitch in 2019, had to settle for third on her hurdles bow at Naas in December, but she made short work of 12 rivals in this two-and-a-half-mile event.
Paul Townend appeared to have any amount in hand as Royal Illusion beat Sweet Street by five and a half lengths, with Erins Benefit in third.
“It’s not too often we have a nine-year-old winning a maiden hurdle,” said Mullins.
“She’ll race over hurdles for the spring and then back on the Flat later in the summer.
“Paul said the ground was a huge help to her, and I’m looking forward to the spring Festivals with her.”
Dark Raven won a dramatic TRI Equestrian Superstore & Cafe, the final event on the card, to complete a double for Mullins.
Lake Winnipesaukee built up a huge lead and was still tanking along in front turning for home when his rider, Aaron Fahey, took the wrong course – hanging right on to the chase track rather than moving to the hurdles course at the bypassed penultimate obstacle.
That left the race at the mercy of Dark Raven, with Patrick Mullins guiding home the 5-2 chance by seven and a half lengths from Silas Marner.
The stewards inquired into Lake Winnipesaukee’s run, with Fahey stating “his saddle had slipped forward, that his mount had been too strong to ride and through a lack of energy he was unable to steer his mount around the final bend on the correct course”.
However, the stewards decided he had “been negligent by his misjudgement of the correct course for this race and therefore had failed to attain his best possible placing” and banned Fahey for 14 days.
French Dynamite justified odds of 1-7 in the three-runner Seamus Meade Hurdle, putting spring festivals into the mind of trainer Mouse Morris.
Partnered by Robbie Power, French Dynamite cantered out a nine-length winner, despite making a mistake at the penultimate flight.
Morris said: “Fairyhouse and Punchestown would be the obvious places to look at – and the further the better.”
Fairyhouse could also be on the agenda for Max Flamingo after his win for Francis Casey and Denis O’Regan in the Donohoe Marquees Maiden Hurdle.
Casey said: “He’ll stay further and he’ll probably go for the three-mile novice handicap final in Fairyhouse.”
Steer Clear (100-30) impressed with a seven-length verdict in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Rated Novice Chase.
The eight-year-old was last seen when unseating his rider at Thurles in November – but after making virtually all the running for Mark Walsh, the Padraig Roche-trained runner found plenty after the last to win in comfortable style.
She’s Commanche (9-1) won the Anton O’Toole Mares Handicap Hurdle for Sean Flanagan and Adrian Murray.