Double Festival boost for Mullins

WILLIE MULLINS continued his build-up to next week’s Cheltenham Festival by recording a double with odds-on favourites Apt Approach and Citizen Vic at Fairyhouse yesterday.

Having suffered a minor setback last autumn, Apt Approach, sixth in the bumper at Cheltenham last year, was having his first outing since finishing unplaced in the champion bumper at the Punchestown Festival and justified 2/9 favouritism in the Easter Festival Maiden Hurdle with ease.

And, having arrived late for the race, Mullins commented: “He jumped very well, by all accounts. Ruby was very happy with him and said you wouldn’t notice the soft ground on him because he really enjoys it.”

Apt Approach is seen as a promising chasing prospect for next season by his trainer, who added: “I’ll look for a ‘novice’ for him quickly. And he’ll probably run in the Grade 2 ‘novice’, over two and a half miles, here at Easter.”

Having drawn a blank in the last seven bumpers run, Mullins and his son Patrick combined to land the finale, the Best Of Luck To The Irish in Cheltenham Flat Race with 9/10 favourite Citizen Vic.

Off the track since last year’s Punchestown Festival, Citizen Vic was prominent throughout. And, significantly, his rider refused to panic when On My Own, ridden by Nina Carberry, went for home turning into the straight.

Citizen Vic gradually reeled in that rival and stayed on to beat chief market-rival Ball Of Blue, which was under pressure five furlongs from home, by three and a half lengths.

The winning trainer said: “He’s a fine, big chasing type, from a good family. He’ll go jumping straight away and will go chasing next season. In a way, he should have gone straight over fences. But we though we could pick up a bumper and a couple of hurdles with him first. He’s a real galloper.”

Odds-on favourite Chevalier Country gave his supporters plenty of anxious moment before justifying 4/7 favouritism in the opening Course Signage At Fairyhouse 4-Y-0 Hurdle.

Trained for Rory Larkin by Jim Gorman, Chevalier Country made all, but was being niggled along by Paddy Flood from the third, his fluency over the Easy Fix hurdlers, in use at Fairyhouse for the first time, proving crucial.

Under pressure turning for home, he looked likely to be overhauled by the well-backed, Noel Meade-trained hurdling debutant Street Legal at the last but kept responding to Flood’s driving on the run-in to triumph by a length and a quarter.

Trainer Gorman explained: “He’s in the ‘Triumph’, but won’t be travelling too far. That’s him, a lazy bugger that needs plenty of pace in his races. We decided to make the running, although he hated being in front. It looked hard work, but he had a bit in hand, I hope. I’m not sure where he’ll go next.”

The rest of the card produced its share of surprises, with four horses scoring at double-digit prices.

Charlie Swan won the 20% Online Discount Beginners Chase, not with strongly-backed 13/8 favourite Boulavogue (third) but with the JP McManus-owned, Denis Hogan-ridden Checkpointcharlie, having only his second run over fences and bouncing back from a fall at this track last month.

Swan admitted, after the 12/1 shot beat Shesadoll by 14 lengths, “That’s a bit of a surprise. He has been very babyish and wasn’t jumping well. But he has done lots of schooling and got things right today. It’s a good time for his family as his three-parts brother Teeming Rain won the Devon National at Exeter yesterday.”

Champion Hurdle winning trainer John Carr enjoyed a welcome change of luck when Dulgodti Bob, enterprisingly ridden by Andrew Leigh (who will ride Give It Time in the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham on Tuesday), was a 14/1 winner of the Book Online For Easter Handicap Hurdle.

“He has a bit of ability, but can’t be trusted,” said Carr afterwards: “This was his last chance. And he might go chasing now.”

Trainer Willie Austin, successful with Handful Of Euros at the last meeting here, struck again when Real Overdrive captured the fairyhouseracecourse.ie Handicap Chase, clearly appreciating the drop back to two miles.

The eight-year-old was a welcome winner for Niall ‘Slippers’ Madden before he begins a seven-day suspension.

Austin said: “It’s a good while since this fellow won. And he’d prefer better ground. He didn’t seem to stay the two miles and five the last day. Two miles suits him well.”

Fran Flood also admitted to being surprised after Prince Massini, in the colours of Cathal McCarthy, returned to winning form in the Bobbyo Bistro Handicap Chase, the 12/1 shot getting home under a strong ride by Mark Walsh to beat Handy Jack.

“It was a moderate race. And it’s good to get it,” said Flood, son of winning trainer Francis. “He ran poorly at Leopardstown the last day. But his was more like him. We’ll try to find another similar race for him.’’

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