Benie Des Dieux put a dramatic fall at Cheltenham behind her to lead home a whitewash for Willie Mullins in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
Successful in this race 12 months ago, Benie Des Dieux took a crashing fall at the final flight on her first start of this term at Prestbury Park but made made amends in tremendous style.
Stormy Ireland, one of her two stablemates, set out to make it a proper test with Mullins’ other runner Good Thyne Tara her closest pursuer.
This Grade One contest soon became a Mullins monopoly as Tintangle was pulled up before the sixth flight after losing many lengths at the start while With Discretion was outclassed on her first run for over a year.
Paul Townend brought Benie Des Dieux (2-5 favourite) to head Stormy Ireland between the last two flights and swept clear to score by nine and a half lengths. Good Thyne Tara filled the third spot, a further 15 lengths away.
“I thought there was upset on the cards for a minute. Stormy Ireland ran a cracker and she was just getting away from Paul, he wasn’t cruising past her like I thought he would,” said Mullins.
“Paul said to me that he felt the ground was drying up every minute and that she just wasn’t relishing that ground.
“She got the job done. She didn’t want to get down and gallop on it. It’s just been a extraordinary dry winter, I know they’ve put a lot of water on it, but you just can’t replicate having a months rain.
“We’ll see how she comes out of it today. The French race comes up very quick, but we’ll see in the next week how she gets over that. We’ll have to look at the French Champion Hurdle.
“She’s done nothing all year, so maybe a bit of hardship mightn’t do her any harm at this stage of the game.
“There seems to be more prize-money for her over hurdles and I wouldn’t go back chasing unless we got real winter ground next season.
“Unless there are really good prizes, I don’t think there is any necessity to risk her over fences.
“Stormy Ireland is so brave. She’s so small, she’s only about 15.3, and there’s nothing of her, but she has a heart as big as a lion. Hopefully she’ll get a really good reward one of these days.
“She’ll definitely go back to France, maybe for the Prix la Barka or something like, that will suit her.”