Mullins enjoys festive good fortune

WILLIE MULLINS set the opening stage of Leopardstown alight yesterday with a fine double, including Blackstairmountain in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase.

The whole complexion of the feature changed when hot-pot Bog Warrior departed at the fourth.

Ridden by Davy Russell, Bog Warrior dipped at the back of the first fence, jumped the following two perfectly adequately and then caught the top of the next and never looked likely to arrive safely at the other side.

Trainer Tony Martin said: “Bog Warrior got a bang to the head and ribs. We will take him home and see how he is.”

Always prominent David Pipe-trained Notus De La Tour kicked hard off the turn in and came away from the final fence with a couple of lengths advantage over the winner.

But Paul Townend conjured a terrific late burst from his charge, which carried Blackstairmountain nicely clear in the closing stages.

“A lot of things have gone right for us today,” said Mullins. “I’d imagine we were a bit lucky there, as was Sir Des Champs at Limerick.

“You need luck in this game, the ground drying out was a big help to this horse. He will probably come back here for the Arkle and the better ground at Cheltenham would suit as well.”

Russell was stood down for the rest of the day, but is expected to resume this afternoon.

Mullins’ Midnight Game, partnered by Russell, left a poor effort at Fairyhouse previously behind him with a game display in the United Arab Emirates Embassy Maiden Hurdle.

Produced with impeccable timing, the winner joined issue with Joxer at the final flight and was always getting the best of the battle on the flat.

“We probably over-faced him at Fairyhouse, after he had a hard race at Punchestown,” reported Mullins. “The drier ground was a help and I’m hoping he will improve, he’ll need to.”

Russell completed a double, with arguably the ride of the year, aboard His Excellency in the Grade 2 United Arab Emirates Embassy Juvenile Hurdle.

In his previous races over jumps, he appeared thoroughly ungenuine and it was no surprise his trainer, Gordon Elliott, opted to go to Down Royal instead.

The ex-John Oxx inmate swished his tail on a couple of occasions and Russell didn’t dare resort to the whip.

He nursed him into the contest, asked his charge to go and win his race coming away from the last and His Excellency condescended to do just enough to beat front-running, One Cool Shabra. “The less light he sees the better,” said a delighted Russell.

John Cullen, who rode One Cool Shabra, was found guilty of using his whip with excessive frequency and suspended for one day.

The race was marred somewhat by a fatal injury to heavily-backed favourite, Sam Bass, who had to be put down after breaking a leg going to the fifth last.

Christy Roche’s Touch Back proved far too good for Willie Mullins’ French-import, Marasonnien, in the racingpost.com Maiden Hurdle.

Marasonnien went off the odds-on favourite and flattered when easing ahead early in the straight for Paul Townend.

But Touch Back was soon cantering in behind, led over the last and surged clear on the level to score by four and three quarter lengths.

Said Roche: “It is nice to have a Leopardstown horse again. He is probably the best I have, but I’m not getting carried away. Maybe, it will be different when he goes over the big ones (fences).”

There was another setback for Mullins in the Bumper. His Champagne Fever, easy winner of a point-to-point, was all the rage, but proved no match for Tony Martin’s Thomas Edison, who had to be switched by Kevin Power before quickening away.

Said Martin: “The good ground brought out the best in him, he got bogged down the last day at Fairyhouse.”

Robert Tyner’s Askthemaster will be a 12-year-old next Sunday, but showed he’s far from a back number when defying top weight in the Download The Free Racing Post Mobile App. Handicap Hurdle.

Ridden by Philip Enright, he powered ahead going to the final flight to easily beat strong market-leader, Harold’s Cross.

“He will get an entry in the Boylesports’ Hurdle (Leopardstown) and go back to Cheltenham for the race he finished second in last year (Grand Annual Chase),” said Tyner.

Arklow Ger, the outsider of the field, gave Paul Nolan a welcome turn in the Racing Post All You Need For Irish Racing Handicap Chase.

It looked as if Bryan Cooper had timed it to perfection on Jigalo, in front after the last, but the blinkered gelding soon began to stop and Robert Power swept through on Arklow Ger to score by a neck.

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