PAT KEANE: Testing times for Willie Mullins

It is about two months since Gigginstown shocked the racing world and removed 60 horses from the care of Willie Mullins.

So, what has this split meant for the main players?

Well, it is obvious already that, as expected, Mullins is the big loser.

A man of high principle, whom we all admire, he cannot have enjoyed the events of the last number of weeks as he, wisely, kept his counsel.

Essentially, it all kicked off on October 1, with the running of the Grade Two PWC Champion Chase at Gowran Park.

A couple of days earlier the news broke of the split and so Mullins’ Ballycasey headed to Gowran and that Grade Two to take on three horses owned by Gigginstown, Road To Riches, Devils Bride, formerly trained by Mullins, and The Game Changer.

Ballycasey proceeded to beat all of the Gigginstown horses. They finished second, third and fourth respectively, and we thought if anyone can make light of such a massive setback then it is Mullins.

Little or nothing happened for the rest of the month, until Mullins’ former inmate, Nambour, made a spectacular start over fences for Mouse Morris with an impressive success in a beginners’ chase at Galway on October 31.

November has seen a marked step up on ex-Mullins horses winning for other trainers. At Down Royal A Toi Phil took a beginners’ chase for Gordon Elliott, with the unkindest cut of all coming at the same track courtesy of Valseur Lido, now in the care of Henry De Bromhead, in a Grade One chase, worth €82,600.

Then you had Tell Us More scoring for Elliott at Naas and Avenir D’Une Vie for De Bromhead at Fairyhouse.

Last weekend the highly-regarded Peace News won a maiden hurdle at Cork for De Bromhead, while A Toi Phil followed his good start at Down Royal by landing a Grade Two at Punchestown.

At Wexford on Tuesday, Sutton Manor added a maiden hurdle for Elliott, making the total win prizemoney to date for the Gigginstown horses that left Mullins €163,787.

As far as Gigginstown is concerned moving the horses has made no difference. This powerful juggernaut has motored on and has literally been banging in the winners everywhere you turn.

Their willingness as well — hopefully this will be a continuing trend — to run more than one in races has greatly enhanced the game.

They did it twice at Punchestown last Sunday. Gigginstown was responsible for three of the five in a Grade Two novice chase over two miles, the winner, Identity Thief, as well as Attribution (third) and Ball D’Arc (fourth).

Then in a cracking renewal of another Grade Two, over two miles and six, they ran eventual winner, A Toi Phil, and also Disko (third) and Nambour (fourth).

Gigginstown is a growing and serious operation and getting to train horses for them is a massive plus.

Ruby Walsh hasn’t suffered from the fallout and is still very much a Gigginstown go-to man. And Patrick Mullins has also had a few rides for them.

Regarding punters, the exit of horses from the Mullins table has made a major difference and the season has been more competitive than could ever have been envisaged.

Mullins is not going to be the force he has been over many seasons. Not even he can replace that many good horses in a relatively short space of time.

But, as sure as night follows day, replace them he will.

In the meantime, he is more than holding his own and that’s prior to the real big guns, the likes of Faugheen, Annie Power, Douvan, and Vroum Vroum Mag entering the arena. As of now, though, the whole game could probably be best described as fascinating.

There are a number of horses we want to be with going forward following recent meetings, led by the Pat Kelly-trained Mall Dini.

He was a Cheltenham Festival hero in March, landing the 24-runner Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle.

Basically, all that did, however, was confirm he was a useful handicap hurdler.

Returning to action at Naas last Saturday, and having a first excursion over fences, Mall Dini caught the eye in taking third behind the impressive Haymount and Coney Island.

He certainly shaped as one with a bright future at this game.

At Punchestown on Sunday it was good to see Nichols Canyon return to something like his old form in the Morgiana Hurdle.

Here’s a pundit that had gone very cold on him as last season progressed, but it may well be time to get back on side.

Fog or no fog, I particularly enjoyed the success of A Toi Phil in a two-miles and six plus Grade Two chase.

To see him emerge out of the gloom pulling a train didn’t half do the spirits and the pocket a world of good. You’d imagine, at least from this range, that whatever finishes in front of him in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse will win!

Henry de Bromhead’s Monalee, a strong order throughout the day, seemed to win the two miles and six maiden hurdle with plenty in hand, but it was deeply frustrating not being able to get a clear view of this contest.

It has the potential to throw up its share of winners and you would just love to know how the second and third respectively, The Storyteller and Turcagua, actually performed.

De Bromhead’s Peace News greatly impressed over two miles at Cork, but we also noted Elliott’s runner-up, Chirico Vallis, who seemed to be screaming for another half a mile.


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