The Irish Daily Star Champion Hunter Chase produced the closest finish of the week at the Punchestown Festival as Bob And Co denied Billaway by the narrowest of margins in a thrilling conclusion to the three mile contest.
Despite disappointing over the National fences in the Aintree Foxhunters, Billaway was sent of the 9//4 favourite and Patrick Mullins set out his intent from the drop of the flag as the nine-year-old, who has been the dominant performer in the Hunter Chase division on this side of the Irish Sea attempted to make almost all of the running.
However, rounding the home bend Bob And Co loomed large as the pair began to pull clear from their rivals, and they fought out a particularly tight finish, before judge Andrew McKeever awarded victory to Paul Nicholls’ English raider to uphold the excellent strike raid of British challengers in the Irish championship hunters.
The victory was a very popular success for Corinthian jockey David Maxwell, the son of two very well-known figures in racing here in Jeremy Maxwell of Glebe House Stud and Judy Maxwell the Ireland agent for Baileys Horse Feeds.
“It’s amazing!” declared the winning rider. “It’s absolutely unbelievable. I thought I was up, the horse just wants it badly and he was never going to lie down.
“Turning in I thought oh god this is Patrick Mullins, if there is one man up against you it is Patrick on something good that his Dad trains.
“He was just always pulling out a bit more – he deserved it.
“It has got to be my biggest winner; this is the heart of racing here and Cheltenham. I love it, it is the most fun that you can have with your trousers on.
“It is amazing to come here, I know there is no crowd, but usually there is, it is an unbelievable sport that a 43-year-old businessman can do that.”
For Billaway it was a second agonising defeat on a big stage this spring having been beaten in the Cheltenham Festival Hunter Chase by a short-head, although he did pull eight lengths clear of Staker Wallace in third with Dylrow fourth and former Cheltenham Foxhunters victor It Came To Pass back in fifth.