Mick Jazz was a shock winner of the Ryanair Hurdle as Faugheen suffered just the second defeat of his career after being pulled up at Leopardstown.
Having looked as good as ever when making a successful return from a near two-year absence in last month’s Morgiana Hurdle, the 2015 Champion Hurdle hero was unsurprisingly a warm order to stretch his Grade One tally to nine as the 2-11 favourite.
The Willie Mullins-trained superstar soon adopted his customary pacesetting role, but it was clear heading out onto the second circuit it might not be that straightforward, with his stablemate Cilaos Emery taking over the lead.
The nine-year-old dropped to the rear of the five-runner field on the run to the second-last and Paul Townend swiftly took him out of the race.
His exit left Cilaos Emery in front ahead of the Gordon Elliott-trained Mick Jazz (14-1) and it was the latter who found most from the final flight to claim a surprise victory under Davy Russell.
Elliott said: “Obviously Faugheen looked to be a certainty, but there is no such thing as a certainty in horseracing. I just hope he’s okay.
“It was Mick Jazz’s day. We went to Cheltenham last year and George Mahoney, who owns a half share with me, flew over from America with all his family for the County Hurdle and he was lame on the morning of the race.
“(Yesterday) was his day in the sun. The plan was to go to America next year for all those jump races, but we’ll enjoy this and see what happens.
“He’ll have to have an entry now in the Champion Hurdle because you never know, but we’ll enjoy this first.”
Faugheen’s owner Rich Ricci said: “Paul said he pulled him up because he just wasn’t firing.
“He seems to be sound. When he cools down maybe we’ll find out something.
“He’s in the horse ambulance going back to the yard, but he’s not distressed or anything. Paul just pulled him up because he wasn’t going anywhere.
“When Cilaos Emery went by him, normally he would have picked up the bit and cracked on, but he just didn’t. I knew we were toast then.
“Some of Willie’s horses have been in and out all week. Hopefully it’s something that shows itself and we have a horse we can get ready for Cheltenham and fight another day with.
“There doesn’t appear to be any injury, so that’s something anyway, but it’s very disappointing.”
Along with Limerick, Leopardstown staged the only National Hunt action in the UK and Ireland yesterday, with Doncaster joining Kelso in being claimed by the cold weather.
Doncaster’s clerk of the course Roderick Duncan told At The Races: “The filled ground is still frozen.
“The forecast has deteriorated, with heavy snow forecast.
“You like to take it to the wire if you can, but the daytime temperatures aren’t there.”
Warwick’s Sunday card hinges on a noon inspection today, but the Saturday action appears to have beaten the cold snap, with Newbury’s Betfred Challow Novices’ Hurdle the highlight.
Colin Tizzard is confident a drop in trip will not inconvenience Kilbricken Storm after he claimed Grade Two glory at Cheltenham a fortnight ago.
The trainer said: “He might want further than this, but it’s two-mile-five in heavy ground, so I think it will be far enough.
“He’s a six-year-old turning seven.
“If he was a four-year-old we probably wouldn’t be running him two weeks after his last run, but he’s an older horse, he handles soft ground and it’s a good prize, so we said we’d let him have a crack at it.”
Kilbricken Storm faces five rivals in the Grade One contest, with four of those winners on their most recent outings.
Ben Pauling secured the first top-level success of his career when Barters Hill claimed this prize in 2015 and he saddles another leading contender in Way Back Then, who scored on his hurdling debut at Kempton after almost a year off the track.
“He is a decent horse that we like a lot. It is quite a big ask after only having one run over hurdles, but it sort of fits in really well for him,” said the Bourton-on-the-Water-based trainer.
“He probably deserves his chance as he will not run an awful lot before the spring. It is always going to be a competitive race – it is not what I would describe as a stellar entry for a Challow, but I am not saying it is going to be easy to win.
“There are a lot of horses in the race around the same mark and I imagine Kilbricken Storm is the one we have to beat.”