As retained rider for owner Barry Connell, Mullins will head to Prestbury Park with genuine hopes of riding his first Festival winner, with Champion Hurdle hope Our Conor the star of his quality book of rides.
Tony Martin’s Gallant Oscar was due to be ridden by Paul Carberry in the feature event of the afternoon, but after two falls Carberry was stood down and Mullins came in for the plum ride.
The 11-2 shot jumped and travelled with zest throughout the three-mile contest and Mullins appeared ultra-confident rounding the home turn. He was almost Carberry-esque as he sat motionless until the final fence, before allowing his mount to stride on to a three-and-a-quarter-length victory.
Saoirse Dun filled the runner-up spot, with 11-4 favourite Los Amigos third.
Mullins said: “Tony is well able to train them for these big handicaps and these are the days that count.”
Martin said: “He jumps exceptionally well. We’ve had him a while and we’re starting to get the hang of him now. That’s his forte – deep ground and plenty of jumping. That’s his ideal conditions.
Mullins had earlier struck aboard Connell’s Sammy Black (11-1) in the Naas Supporters Handicap Hurdle, trained by his father Tony Mullins.
The winning trainer said: “We haven’t had many runners this winter. The recession seems to have hit me harder than anyone.
“It’s nice to see they are back running well again – I think our last six runners have all been in the money and it’s nice to get a winner. “Off his present mark (113), he’s capable of winning again.”
There were also doubles on the day for jockey Bryan Cooper and Gigginstown House Stud. The Colm Murphy-trained Empire Of Dirt was a 5-1 winner of the Listed Irish Racing Writers Kingsfurze Novice Hurdle, beating fellow Gigginstown runner The Game Changer by two lengths.
Murphy said: “He’s threatened to win a good one and he’s a horse that’s had a few hiccups, but he stuck his head out well there.”
Cooper and Gigginstown swiftly doubled up as the Dessie Hughes-trained Bright New Dawn justified odds-on favouritism in the Naas Directors Plate Novice Chase.
Winner of the Grade Two Flyingbolt Novice Chase at Navan last month, the seven-year-old was an 8-11 market leader to follow up in this Grade Three test and jumped accurately at the head of affairs throughout.
Mullaghanoe River was throwing down a serious challenge when he dumped Carberry on the turf two out and may well have made a race of it, as Bright New Dawn had to be driven out by Cooper to get the job done from Letter Of Credit.