Long-absent Killultagh Vic back with a bang for Mullins
Grade 1 winner Killultagh Vic defied an absence of 714 days with an ultimately smooth victory in the feature 2m4f hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday.
Sidelined by injury since winning a Grade 2 novice chase at Leopardstown in the most dramatic of circumstances after nearly falling at the last, the Willie Mullins-trained 9-10 favourite showed no ring-rustiness as he put Ex Patriot and Diamond King in their place up the home straight.
The last time he ran over hurdles was when beating Thistlecrack in a Grade 1 novice hurdle over three miles at the festival here in 2015, before embarking on a short but eventful novice chasing career the following season.
He did well to win this after a particularly poor round of jumping. Numerous mistakes ultimately failed to prove detrimental enough to his chance as he picked up well on the run-in to account for Tuesday's Limerick winner Ex Patriot by two and three-quarter lengths.
A further head away in third was front-running Diamond King, the 2016 Coral Cup winner and running his most encouraging race for some time.
Speaking of the winner, Mullins said: "His engine is intact but his hurdle jumping brain hasn't changed much! Hopefully everything will be all right with him over the next week and we'll probably look for a fence for him next time.
"The main thing is he comes out of this race all right and we'll look for a target after that. I was thinking of leaving him over hurdles for the rest of the season but after the way he jumped there we'll probably look for a chase, maybe the Red Mills at Gowran in February. We might look at the Kinloch Brae at Thurles next month, although I think it might come too soon."
Asked where he sees Killultagh Vic fitting in this season, Mullins replied: "If he comes back sound we'll see. I couldn't see him stepping up in class over hurdles the way he jumped there. We did school him over fences before racing at Leopardstown during the week and maybe that was still in his head out there today.
"The right thing to do is to go up in trip with him over fences. Today's job is done, the next job is to see how he comes out of the race."
Speculative it may be, but William Hill and Paddy Power introduced him at 40-1 for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, while bet365 and Sky Bet offered 50-1.