PAT KEANE: Could Willie Mullins pay price for Aintree offensive?

Next Tuesday week will see the start of the Punchestown festival and there is going to be a somewhat unusual feel to it.

Willie Mullins has given many of his horses a completely new preparation on this occasion and other trainers will be praying that might level the pitch, at least a little.

The facts are that Mullins has behaved out of character, driven, of course, by his desire to be champion trainer in Britain.

He produced a ferocious onslaught on the three days at Aintree and it reaped a rich dividend, putting him very much in the driver’s seat in the championship.

Mullins’ determination to make his own piece of history is perfectly understandable, considering he may never be in this position again.

Traditionally, his best horses come out of Cheltenham and are then given a relatively long break, at least most of them, with the major prize money on offer at Punchestown in mind.

Last year, for instance, Mullins only ran 10 horses at Aintree and there were very few what might be termed stars among them.

The best ones that headed for the Grand National meeting were Arctic Fire and Nichols Canyon and they are distinctly second division when it comes to the Closutton base.

Nichols Canyon was the trainer’s only winner at the meeting. But this year Mullins sent a massive team across the Irish Sea.

He won huge money and six races, sailing past the admirable Paul Nicholls, and is now long odds on to cap an extraordinary campaign.

He despatched the likes of Vautour, Douvan, Djakadam, Apple’s Jade, Don Poli, Yorkhill, Bellshill, Shaneshill and Limini, as well as many more, on the journey and, you suspect, in normal circumstances, most of them would have remained at home.

So, the dream now for Mullins’ opponents is that the demands of Aintree will leave a sizeable mark and give others a better chance.

Many will be hoping that is the case, on the basis of how Punchestown worked out a year ago.

The statistics from that meeting bear the closest inspection and are simply staggering.

There were 37 contests run over the five days and Mullins won 16 of them, leaving just 21 to be shared by the rest of the racing world.

Only two of Mullins’ winners, Bellshill and Nichols Canyon, had gone to Aintree. Eight of his winners arrived directly from Cheltenham.

There were 12 Grade Ones run at Punchestown and Mullins landed 10 of them.

Gordon Elliott’s Don Cossack and Jessica Harrington’s Jezki were the ones who managed to buck the trend.

Don Cossack beat Mullins’ Djakadam, with Mullins’ delightful Hurricane Fly chasing home Jezki.

We now know that, for once, Mullins has not targeted Punchestown in the manner he has done in the past. Discovering if it makes much of a difference will be fascinating.

Those of us on Aidan O’Brien’s Housesofparliament at Leopardstown last Sunday were hit with a real shock.

The son of Galileo shaped with plenty of promise on his only outing last season at Tipperary and the 10 furlongs at Leopardstown looked made for him.

For most of the trip, we were entitled to be happy with our choice and it took a fair bit of swallowing when another O’Brien inmate, the Galileo newcomer, Bhutan, powered ahead from the furlong pole.

You’d still have to like Housesofparliament, however, and the fact he finished well clear of the third was encouraging.

Dermot Weld’s Harzand made giant strides from winning an ordinary Cork maiden, by half the track, to land the Group 3 Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown.

He is clearly a horse with a lot of ability and his heart is certainly in the right place.

Cork told us that Harzand handles testing conditions in style and Leopardstown very much confirmed that.

If Harzand proves as effective on a much better surface then he will be some tool. The suspicion remains, though, that cut in the ground might be vital to him!

Remember when Tony Martin’s Dark Crusader beat Dermot Weld’s Good Tradition on the Friday night of the Galway festival at the end of last July?

Dark Crusader had 11lbs in hand of her rival at the weights, but Good Tradition was much preferred in the market and went off the odds-on favourite.

I suppose that wasn’t a big surprise, given it was Galway and Weld, but Dark Crusader came out on top by a length and a quarter.

Fast forward to Gowran Park last Saturday and a similar situation, with another Weld horse involved.

This was Radanpour, who was taking on John Kiely’s mare, Toe The Line, in what was a four-horse affair, but in reality a match between the pair.

Everything pointed to Toe The Line being market-leader, on the basis she was 15lbs well in with her rival.

But throughout the morning it seemed that every punter in the country wanted to be with Radanpour and, rather astonishingly, he left the starter behind at odds of 4-7, with Toe The Line allowed to start at 15-8.

And you know the rest. Toe The Line scampered clear up the straight to beat Radanpour unextended by nine lengths, leaving the geniuses flummoxed!


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