I think we saw a very good horse in the Jessica Harrington-trained Our Duke at Leopardstown last Sunday.
The morning of the contest revealed that he was strongly fancied to make a winning debut over flights and he was certainly a solid order in the market and on line.
Prior to Leopardstown, the imposing son of Oscar had only run twice previously. He made a stunning debut in a bumper at Punchestown in November, beating the subsequent winner, De Plotting Shed, by 21 lengths.
He then ran at Navan in the middle of December, taking on Gordon Elliott’s Death Duty, who had himself been most impressive when scoring at Down Royal by 16 lengths in late October.
Death Duty was preferred to Our Duke in the betting and justified the confidence by beating the latter by half a length.
It was still a decent effort on the part of Our Duke, but realistically no more than that.
I was a little surprised then to see how much support Harrington’s charge had at Leopardstown, considering he was taking on the Willie Mullins-trained Pylonthepressure.
After all, Pylonthepressure had far more experience than his opponent, in every aspect of the game, and appeared to hold all of the aces.
I mean this six-year-old, unlike his rival, was in his second season racing after running four times last campaign, and was a dual bumper winner.
On top of that Pylonthepressure had an outing over jumps under his belt, having made a highly promising start at Fairyhouse towards the end of November.
He was beaten five lengths into second by the smart Tombstone and the fact it was a further 14 lengths back to the third seemed to speak for itself.
Essentially, Pylonthepressure had everything going for him at Leopardstown and, though I took on board the information that was forthcoming about Our Duke, I have to admit to not really giving him a prayer.
Oh dear! For most of the 13-runner, two-and-a-half-mile contest there was only one horse you would have wanted to be on and that was the hot-pot, Pylonthepressure.
He jumped and travelled like a dream, whereas the hurdling technique displayed by Our Duke left plenty to be desired.
But when it came to getting down and dirty there was always only going to be one winner and it wasn’t the favourite.
Our Duke wasn’t great over the last two obstacles, but found a huge amount for Robbie Power driving from the back of the final obstacle to beat Pylonthepressure by three lengths.
His jumping can only improve and he seems to possess an excellent attitude. Cheltenham this year is probably a bridge too far, but Our Duke is one we will want on our side going forward.
Mind you we will also, obviously, want to see the form being boosted sooner rather than later by Pylonthepressure.
I know we waffle on at times about the unbelievable power of the Willie Mullins yard and the manner in which it unbalances National Hunt racing in this country.
But there is no mystery as to why he has become so successful and if anyone had forgotten the reasons — if only for a second — then they should have looked at that novices’ hurdle at Warwick last Saturday.
Mullins saddled the first two home, Thomas Hobson beating Open Eagle, and that didn’t half showcase the talents of the man.
Take Thomas Hobson for instance. He won his maiden hurdle at the Galway festival in July, beating the modest Stuccodor by a hard earned four lengths.
Mistake-prone, he didn’t exactly shape as a horse with an overly bright future. But then afforded a break of over three months, he came back to take second in a Grade 3 at Navan, before slamming Jetstream Jack at Punchestown.
Warwick simply confirmed that Mullins had again worked the oracle.
It has been a somewhat similar story with Open Eagle, who was an odds-on shot when a well beaten third at Fairyhouse almost a year ago, but has come back this season much improved.
Neither of them, however, is anywhere near the top of the tree when it comes to Mullins novice hurdlers, a sobering thought for rival trainers.
Mullins’ lightly-raced Kalkir is a most interesting horse going forward, having made a belated seasonal debut when runner-up behind Henry Higgins in the valuable Coral Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday.
He is a five-year-old and we know horses of that age can be notoriously difficult to place. He was a useful juvenile last season, having come from France.
Kalkir only ran once in his native country, finishing fourth at Auteuil, and then took a Grade 3 at Fairyhouse on his first outing for Mullins.
But then he was beaten three times after that, concluding with being pulled up in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
He had 11-0 to carry in the fiercely competitive — at least in theory — Coral Hurdle and beat everything out of the gate, except the easy winner, Henry Higgins.
The handicapper had his say this week and has bumped Kalkir up by 7lbs to a mark of 144. What will be Mullins’ next move?
Our old friend Alpha Des Obeaux got back on track at Gowran Park on Thursday, following a disappointing effort at Leopardstown at Christmas.
The fitting of cheek-pieces for the first time seemed to help enormously and he travelled far better than he had at Leopardstown.
This was a deeply impressive display and those punters, I am aware of a couple, who hold 20-1 ante-post vouchers about Alpha Des Obeaux for the World Hurdle at Cheltenham are now more than entitled to dream.
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