Stable’s lesser lights help Mullins to a day one clean sweep

Willie Mullins enjoyed a clean sweep of the Grade 1 events on the opening day of the Punchestown Festival, but some second-string representatives were called upon to help deliver the treble in front of a record opening-day crowd of 20,214.

Stable’s lesser lights help Mullins to a day one clean sweep

Having been successful aboard Felix Yonger in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork in December, jockey Danny Mullins renewed his association with the gelding in the Boylesports Champion Chase and he produced the nine-year-old with a similarly well-judged ride to land the feature for the Mullins stable.

Originally the outsider of three Mullins runners, but subsequently supported into 5-1, he was a touch outpaced early but the strong gallop ensured his stamina was called into play at the business end.

Rank outsider Baily Green, runner-up in the Arkle Chase of 2013, threatened to cause a real upset when leading over the last but, in a thrilling run to the line, Mullins persuaded his mount to put his head in front in the dying strides.

The winning trainer was quick to praise the rider: “He went off to America for the last two weekends and had seven rides, with four wins and three seconds, so he’s riding out of his skin.

“When this fellow looked like he was outpaced and probably needed a breather, Danny had the confidence to just sit on him, wait until the horse got his air full of lungs, and have one rattle. And it worked out. They’re a good partnership.”

The first leg of the treble came courtesy of Douvan, who danced to victory in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle under Ruby Walsh, prompting the trainer to proclaim him “as good as we’ve ever had”.

The prohibitively priced 1-6 favourite travelled stylishly and jumped fluently behind the pacesetting Velocity Boy and Sizing John, and when Walsh asked his mount to take closer order after the second last the odds-on shot moved forward effortlessly. The five-year-old then quickened away to readily confirm Supreme Novices’ Hurdle form with Sizing John, who was well clear of third-placed Blair Perrone.

Comparisons with Champion Hurdler Faugheen were inevitable, but Mullins was quick to point out the imposing gelding ‘more efficient jumping a hurdle than Faugheen ever was’.

However, the reigning champ’s place at the head of the market for next year’s Champion Hurdle seems reasonably safe, with strong suggestions the near-17 hands Douvan will go over fences next season.

“He is not a Hurricane Fly type, more a Mikael D’Haguenet type,” added Mullins. “I can’t wait to get him over a fence, but we’ll discuss it with connections.

“He’s an amazing athlete, he has size and scope — he’s extraordinary. We’ll put him away now. It looks like he should go chasing but seeing that performance makes you think he could stay hurdling.”

The final leg of the treble came in the Growise Champion Novice Chase, not from odds-on favourite Don Poli, but the back-to-form Valseur Lido.

Given a patient ride by Ruby Walsh as Wounded Warrior set a strong pace, he moved up onto the heels of the leaders, going well, three from home. Racing down the outside, he challenged and led between the final fences, and ran on powerfully to beat the long-time leader, with Don Poli a disappointing last of five. “He’s not too bad on his day,” said Mullins. “He mightn’t have the same constitution as Don Poli, but he’s a fair horse, and it’s nice to have him. I think he just prefers that ground. It just might have been too lively for Don Poli.”

There were no regrets for favourite backers in the opening Fr Sean Breen Memorial as the heavily supported Wish Ye Didnt scored with the minimum of fuss. Available at 11-10 in the morning but returned at 8-13, the mare was given a positive ride by Nina Carberry and kicked clear up the straight to give trainer Enda Bolger his fifth victory in the race in six years. The winner could return on Saturday for the Cross Country Chase.

The lightly raced Some Article completed an Irish Festival double when landing the Killashee Handicap Hurdle under Niall Madden. Trained by Tom Mullins, the 10-1 chance mirrored his Fairyhouse success by getting up in the dying strides, this time denying Macnicholson by three parts of a length.

Confidence behind Gordon Elliott’s Petit Mouchoir in the Goffs Land Rover Bumper proved well founded as the grey gelding galloped clear of his rivals for a facile success. Winner of a point to point at Kirkistown, the 4-1 joint favourite was ridden prominently and confidently along the inside by Jamie Codd and when the gap appeared racing to the final turn, he moved to the front before stretching away.

“He’s a nice horse, but wouldn’t be the quickest in the world,” said Elliott. “Willie Mullins will have the pleasure of training him next year. He’s a very slick jumper and will make a nice hurdler.”

The concluding bumper went to newcomer Timing’severything, at odds of 33-1. Trained by Pat Twomey, who had runner-up Policy Breach in the Land Rover Bumper, he was ridden prominently by Jane Mangan, and ran on strongly up the straight to foil a considerable gamble on 5-2 favourite Coeur Joyeux.

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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