Alan Magee, PA
Cheltenham Festival heroine Love Envoi had to make do with the runner-up spot as Brandy Love provided Willie Mullins with a sixth victory in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final at Fairyhouse.
Harry Fry’s Love Envoi stretched her unbeaten record over hurdles to five in the Cotswolds last month and the British raider was the 15-8 favourite to add to her tally in Co Meath.
Mullins, whose previous winners of the Grade One contest include subsequent Champion Hurdle winner Annie Power (2013), fielded eight of the 15 runners this time around, with Brandy Love seemingly the champion trainer’s first string under Paul Townend.
Having missed Cheltenham, the 9-2 shot was making her first competitive appearance since January and travelled sweetly for much of the two-and-a-half-mile journey.
Love Envoi, ridden by Jonathan Burke, did her best to make a race of it, but Brandy Love was ultimately much too strong from the final flight, despite drifting across the track, with eight lengths separating the pair at the line.
The winner’s stablemate Hors Piste, who made much of the running, was best of the rest in third.
Townend said: “I didn’t want to be as far back as I was when the tapes went up, but I couldn’t give her a kick in the belly. I knew I had the ones that mattered in front of me so was always happy.
“I walked the track earlier so was always conscious that the rail was there if she drifted across.
“She isn’t easy, even at home, but we are learning about her all the time and she has serious ability”.
Mullins said: “Paul did a fantastic job to keep her straight and produce her as he did. The last day she gave away the race here.
“It was a great race, the Cheltenham winner was here and she beat her fair and square.
“This mare has a lot of ability and I think if we can get her back going left-handed it would be better. I’d imagine that will be it for this season.
“We’ll see what her owner wants to do – if he wants to keep racing or breed from her. She is a good racemare but does drift left and that is not ideal.
“She had a minor problem that kept her out of Cheltenham. This race is more prestigious for breeding being a Grade One, so I’m delighted for her owner.”