We should have known. Put Willie Mullins, Patrick Mullins, and the Galway Hurdle together and there could only really be one result.
Add a dual Grade One-winning hurdler to the mix and the outcome was inevitable.
And yet Saldier was sent off at odds of 18-1 to defy top weight. That he emulated 2020 hero Aramon and 2018 victor Sharjah in doing so was testament to the horse’s class, his trainer’s genius, and the guile of an amateur jockey who was winning the race for a third time in four years.
“I never thought I’d even get to ride in it,” Patrick Mullins said in the aftermath. “I don’t remember (1996 winner) Mystical City but we have the picture at home and I remember Black Queen winning it (in 1998) and this is always a race you want to be winning – it’s very special.
“Virginie Bascop and Donal Redmond deserve a lot of credit for this horse. He wasn’t at his best through the winter and they’ve nursed him back. The cheekpieces probably helped as well and the good ground.”
Not that it was all plain-sailing. There was a key moment when horse and jockey were trapped on the rail with nowhere to go. But rather than attempt a Houdini-type escape, Patrick Mullins opted to sit and suffer. It proved a wise move.
“I was down on the rail following Hannon and I could see Paul (Townend on Ciel De Neige) was going quite well on my outside and I was trying to move out to follow him but then Cape Gentleman was hemming me in and I had to sit and wait until Cape Gentleman went by me and then launch this fella and at the last hurdle we were very, very long. It was roll the dice and pray and he came up for me. Saldier deserves huge credit for that. I needed that jump at the last and he came up for me.”
Hurdle victory was the highlight of another great day for Ireland’s champion trainer. It began with a Closutton one-two but not in the order the market anticipated as 3-1 shot Farout, ridden by Brian Hayes, got the better of 13-8 favourite Tax For Max in the Guinness Novice Hurdle.
The trainer said: “It was a very brave performance by the winner, he did it the hard way, and took the race by the scruff of the neck. It’s a big improvement, he's going to go up to graded company now. Tax For Max ran a great race, Paul (Townend) did a great job settling him and the way it worked out he was probably a bit too far back. But the way he settled today bodes well for the future.”
Mullins didn’t have to wait long to double his tally for the day as Fan De Blues showed stamina in abundance to get up late in the Grade Three Rockshore Novice Chase.
“It’s nice when it works out,” winning jockey Paul Townend said. “My jumping probably put me in the race without having to do too much and he put down his head when he met the rising ground. I thought I had a live chance (of winning when he rounded the final turn), I definitely did. I saw the two boys in front of me were flat out and I hadn’t fully committed yet.”
The John McConnell-trained Streets Of Doyen denied the fast-finishing Western Run in the Guinness Open Gate Brewery Beginners Chase with 2-1 favourite Blue Berry back in third.
Winning jockey Simon Torrens said: “He idled halfway up the hill, he spotted the crowd, he idled plenty.
“He wore cheekpieces over hurdles and I'd say it won't be too long before he gets them put on again.
“He’s a classy horse, he went to Cheltenham and was third in the Albert Bartlett. He's been consistent all year and deserved to get his head in front.”