PAT KEANE: Limini looks the real deal

Prior to Fairyhouse last Saturday, Willie Mullins had what could be best described as three good things lined up for the Cheltenham Festival, Faugheen, Douvan and Un De Sceaux.

Of course it is never as simple as that and if there is any place in the world guaranteed to send you home with your tail between your legs it’s Prestbury Park.

But one can only cross the bridge as you go and I think we have to add Limini to the Mullins bankers, following her performance at that Fairyhouse meeting.

She blew me away and I must confess I did not envisage such an impressive display of staying power.

We had previously been allowed just one glimpse of the ex-French horse and that came way back at Punchestown last May.

Partnered by Paul Townend, Limini went off the 5-4 favourite to beat 22 rivals. She accomplished the task in good enough fashion, beating Sandymount Duke by a snug enough half a length.

Now the form did work out quite nicely, but the race was essentially a summer maiden hurdle, on good ground, and such contests rarely have a lot of relevance when it comes to Cheltenham.

This year Cheltenham houses a new race, the Grade Two Mares’ Novice Hurdle, the last contest on the Thursday and run over two miles and a furlong.

For a while now the bookmakers have had Limini pencilled in as the clear favourite and I could not escape the feeling this was a case of pricing the horse’s connections, rather than going on what the bare form told us, even if the mare did win three times on the Flat in her native country.

But the evidence of Fairyhouse is that the layers could hardly have been more right.

Stepping into Grade Three company, in testing conditions that were vastly different to last May, there was every reason to consider the possibility the daughter of Peintre Celebre might be vulnerable.

Long odds-on in the morning, as short as 1-3 on the exchanges, she developed into a massive drifter as race time loomed.

That, of course, had plenty to do with the hammering Mullins’ three horses had taken at Doncaster through the day and it was especially alarming to note the way both his Up For Review and Shaneshill had cut out at the track before the Fairyhouse heat.

Consequently, Limini almost touched evens and was returned at 4-5, an offer that was quite unthinkable some hours before.

In any case Limini didn’t half make those laying her pay. Despite the fact her jumping left a bit to be desired, she won in a canter.

The Mullins yard has treated us to Quevega and Annie Power in recent times. It is obviously premature to be putting Limini in that league just yet, but I have a feeling she is very good.

The Irish Gold Cup meeting at Leopardstown today is traditionally regarded as the last of the Cheltenham trials and there is every chance we will be a lot wiser this evening than we are now.

That said, the actual line up for the Gold Cup has to be regarded as very disappointing.

There is no Vautour, Don Cossack, Don Poli or Djakadam.

Basically, what we are going to see is the Irish B-team in action and surely only Road To Riches has any pretensions of Cheltenham glory.

Elsewhere, however, we will be looking for some real encouragement for one or two of our current Cheltenham fancies.

We will certainly want to see Ivanovich Gorbatov doing the business in the opening Gain Spring Juvenile Hurdle, while Bellshill will be the focus of our attention in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle.

Noel Meade’s Bonny Kate was first reserve for the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park last month, but failed to get into the contest.

Disappointing at the time, presumably, it didn’t half work in her favour.

For Meade to even contemplate running the six-year-old was a brave decision.

She’d have had to compete from 5lbs out of the handicap and would have faced the starter with just three races over fences under her belt.

Indeed, Bonny Kate unseated her rider in one of them, her initial venture.

And so Meade, not having the best of campaigns, was forced to look for something else and settled on the three and a half-mile Grand National Trial Handicap Chase at Punchestown last Sunday.

This was another brave call, considering she was taking on largely seasoned handicappers, at an extreme trip, over which she was untested.

But, beautifully handled by the clearly underrated Sean Flanagan, Bonny Kate produced the most delightful jumping and front running to gallop her rivals silly and score by six lengths.

She stays exceptionally well and when a mare has an attitude as good as she possesses then plenty can be achieved.

The handicapper had his say this week and bumped Bonny Kate up by 12lbs, to a mark of 137, so Meade’s next move will be more than interesting.

There were seven races at Down Royal on Wednesday, a meeting that failed to produce an odds-on favourite.

Now I wonder if that had anything to do with the fact Willie Mullins had no runner?


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