Min fends off surprise challenge of Hardline to retain John Durkan crown

Min overcame a few hairy moments to fend off Hardline and secure back-to-back editions of the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown on Sunday.

Paul Townend’s mount gave the first fence plenty of air and never seemed to get into a rhythm out in front, reaching for a few fences and backing off others. When Hardline came to throw down a challenge two out, it looked as though the 8-11 favourite might be in bother. The front-runner was headed and his fate looked sealed.

To his credit, though, Min knuckled down and began to assert his authority on the run to the final fence. At that point, Townend needed help from his mount and it was certainly forthcoming.

Min threw in a big leap, which, for all that it looked a bit awkward, probably just gave him the initiative to go on and win. He pulled clear to record a fifth Grade 1 success by two-and-a-quarter lengths, with Presenting Percy, who kept on gamely over the inadequate two-and-a-half-mile trip, a further length back in third.

“When I needed him to jump he was very good,” said Townend, who was winning the race for a first time. “We weren't going a two-mile gallop early on and that's what he is used to doing, but his jumping actually won it for him in the end. He was fresh enough as well on his first run back, so you'd be happy enough with him.” 

As they swung for home, all nine runners in the €85,000 Grade 1 could have been covered with a blanket, lending further credence to the impression that the pace hadn’t been strong.

Storm Atiyah had been rattling around the Kildare venue and strong winds coincided with some piercing winter showers during the feature event. Mullins, enjoying his sixth John Durkan success, felt conditions didn’t help Townend’s task.

“I thought it was an unbelievable performance coming after three bad mistakes,” he said. “I think he wanted to go faster but it's very hard in that wind to judge what's happening. If he had been going faster he mightn't have made those mistakes so to make them and then come back from what looked like certain defeat at the second last; he picked up and threw a huge jump at the last and was going away at the end. I thought it was an unbelievable win.”

After his triumph here last season, Min didn’t reappear until the Dublin Racing Festival. He is entered for the Paddy's Rewards Club Chase over 2m at Leopardstown on December 27, and is also in the King George VI Chase at Kempton a day earlier, although his trainer indicated plans are fluid at this stage.

He did reveal, however, that Douvan had suffered a setback following his comeback victory at Clonmel last month and wouldn’t be out over the festive period.

“Douvan didn't come out of his race well,” he said of the injury-prone star. “It's not the problem he had before, it's a back-end problem, so he's going to miss Christmas but hopefully he will be back after that.”

The Closutton stable’s Cilaos Emery was cut to as low as 15-2 from as big as 20-1 for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase following his Hilly Way Chase victory at Cork, but it was for the Ryanair Chase that Min was shortened, with Paddy Power going 6-1 (from 8). BoyleSports, on the other hand, were unmoved, leaving him at 8-1 for the Ryanair and 12-1 for the Champion Chase.