Ruby Walsh was on board both Ballycasey, all-the-way winner of the Normans Grove and Bleu Berry in the Rathbarry & Glenview Studs Novice Hurdle while, with the multiple champion on board disappointing favourite Invitation Only in the Easter Festival April 16th-18th Novice Hurdle, Paul Townend seized his opportunity on board Al Boum Photo.
“We tried to make a stayer out of him, but he seems much happier over shorter distances than three miles — he’s got his confidence back,” commented Mullins after Ballycasey (15/8) held the late flourish of 6/5 favourite Ball D’Arc in the Normans Grove Chase, a race Mullins has now won six times in eight years.
“He jumped brilliantly and seems to have found his mojo again. We had a choice between the Topham or here, and it worked out for us.
“He’ll probably have to run in the Grade One (the Boylesports Champion Chase) in Punchestown now. And the Galway Plate is a possible target again, although he’ll be a bit higher than last year.”
The progressive Bleu Berry provided Mullins with the second leg of his treble when confirming recent Naas form with Outspoken in the two-mile novice event, Luke McMahon’s French-bred gelding scoring by two and a quarter lengths.
“He’s improving with every run and will make a nice chaser next season,” stated Mullins.
“But he’ll go to Punchestown first. Any of my runners in that race could step-up to two and a half miles, so we won’t nominate targets for them yet. And they’d all prefer nicer ground.”
Al Boum Photo, winner of his maiden hurdle in Thurles and carrying the colours of Cork-born former bookmaker Joe Donnelly, impressed in the two and a half mile Grade Two, coming from off the pace to foil Stand Up And Fight, with Runfordave third and favourite Invitation Only a well-beaten sixth.
“That surprised me — it was better than we thought he’d do at this stage of his career,” admitted the champion trainer, who closed the gap on Gordon Elliott by more than €80,000 yesterday in the current title- race.
“That was only his third run and Paul said he was still very green. But, after being caught in a pocket, he picked up well when he saw daylight.
“He’s a real staying chaser. And better ground and an extra half-mile will suit him — he’ll probably run in the three-mile novice in Punchestown.”
The Gold Cup-winning partnership of Jessica Harrington and Robbie Power was on the mark in the beginners’ chase as Woodland Opera justified 4/5 favouritism in emphatic style, beating O Ceallaigh readily by seven lengths.
“He had another wind op before his last run and it has made a difference,” said Harrington.
“Himself and Robbie got their wires crossed at the third last but, other than that, he was very good. He’ll go to Punchestown now, for the novice handicap over two miles and five, provided the ground is good.”
Harrington completed a double and provided Barry Geraghty with a winner on his first day back after injury when Close Shave led home a one-two for owner JP McManus in the Great Value Online Novice Handicap Hurdle.
“He’s an old-fashioned, three-miler chaser and needs soft ground, “explained Harrington.
‘Boots’ Madden, trainer of runner-up Travertine, completed a double for McManus, when Ah Bee Cee, ridden by Niall Jnr was a 14/1 winner of the finale, the Book Easter Festival Tickets Handicap Hurdle.
From Eden battled back tenaciously for Mikey Fogarty to deny Look Closer by a head in the opening Johnny McCarthy memorial 4-Y-0 Maiden Hurdle, providing owner Jackie Kenny, from Oranmore, County Galway, with his first success.
From Eden was also a welcome winner for trainer Val O’Brien, who said: “His jumping has improved and he battled back well.”