Fastest century for Mullins

Champion trainer Willie Mullins achieved another notable milestone in his remarkable career when the Ruby Walsh ridden Soll justified odds-on favouritism in the N.I. Hotels Federation Beginners Chase at Down Royal yesterday.

The 2/5 shot brought up the fifth and fastest century of the trainer’s career, beating the landmark set on February 13, 2010, during a season which saw him reach his best seasonal tally of 146, a total which has been beaten only once — by Aidan O’Brien.

In his post-race comments, Mullins acknowledged the high-class string currently housed in his Closutton yard and expressed the hope that he and his staff will keep them all healthy over the coming months.

Discussing Soll, which made most of the running, jumping fluently to beat Harpsy Cord emphatically by four and a half lengths, he commented: “He’s a big baby. You saw how green he was but I think he’s a horse with a big future.”

Mullins added: “The four-miler (National Hunt Chase) at Cheltenham looks the race for him. And, although I’d like to give him another run, to gain more experience, it’s getting a bit too close.”

The Sean Graham Bookmakers Maiden Hurdle produced a dramatic finish, and further drama in the Stewards Room, where both Davy Russell and Declan Lavery were suspended for their whip-use.

The Russell-ridden Beef To The Heels, having travelled strongly throughout, looked sure to score when negotiating the final flight with a four lengths lead. But 33/1 shot Station Lane, ridden by Lavery, stayed on strongly on the run-in and got up close home to foil Russell’s mount by a head.

Russell was banned for three race-days (starting on February 15) and Lavery (who broke his collar-bone in a fall from Station Lane here at Christmas) for one day, when the Stewards judged that both riders had not allowed their respective mounts time to respond to their urgings with the whip.

Station Lane is trained by Brian Hamilton, who declared: “I’ve said it before — this wee lad (Declan Lavery) is brilliant. He’s a lad with a big future. His 7lb. claim meant that this mare carried only 10-4 today, which was a big help in that very heavy ground.”

Drama too in the bumper when the gambled-on Fickle Fortune was badly hampered with less than two furlongs to race before cruising into the lead and scoring, effortlessly, in the hands of Nina Carberry.

Well-backed all day and sent off 8/11 to make a successful debut for Noel Meade, the Heron Island mare ran freely throughout the two-mile trip before toying with the opposition and beating Los Amigos by two and a half lengths.

Winning trainer Meade was enthusiastic about Fickle Fortune, declaring: “She’s just very, very good. She hasn’t done a lot of work at home but she has shown that she’s very special. She has serious speed, but she stays well too. She goes on any ground and we might think about bringing her to Aintree for the mares bumper.”

Jody McGarvey, (21), from Coleraine, County Derry, registered his first success in the saddle when well-backed Code of The West (5/1 to 7/2) defied top-weight ijn the Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Chase. The seven-year-old is trained by Christy Roche for race-sponsor J P McManus.

Tainer Daryl Deacon made the trip north from Enniscorthy, County Wexford worthwhile when Amber Knight, racing from 4lb.out of the handicap, denied well-backed favourite Mister First (7/2 to 11/4) in the opening Follow Down Royal On Facebook Handicap Chase.

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