Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh combined for a big Grade 1 double at Fairyhouse yesterday with Zaidpour and Arvika Ligeonniere.
Zaidpour, partnered with typical confidence by the former champion jockey, was impressive in taking the Bar One Racing Hatton’s Grace Hurdle.
But for Mullins, however, chances are Walsh would have been on the trainer’s other horse in the race, So Young.
Said Walsh: “I was going to ride So Young, but Willie put me on Zaidpour instead. He did it well and two and a half miles is his trip.”
So Young tried to make all, but collapsed like a pricked balloon when the heat was turned on early in the straight.
Voler La Vedette, who was very uneasy in the market, soon forged ahead and was in front heading to the second last.
But once Walsh switched Zaidpour out, the progressive six-year-old immediately looked the likely winner.
He hit the top of the final flight, but it made no difference and he forged away on the flat to beat Monksland by two and a half lengths.
Said Mullins: “He has come back a stronger horse this season. He didn’t do well on grass, but has improved since coming in.
“He is good enough to run in the Champion Hurdle, but not good enough to win it. He will be entered in all those good two-mile races, but two and a half to three is his trip. I would think at Cheltenham he will have to go three miles and take on Big Buck’s.”
It was a first success in the Hatton’s Grace for Walsh, while Mullins only won it once previously, with Hurricane Fly two years ago.
The relatively inexperienced Monksland, who was held up at the back for much of the journey by Paul Carberry, ran a cracking race and is clearly one for the future.
But Voler La Vedette was disappointing and hasn’t gone on from her superb second to Big Buck’s at Cheltenham in March.
She had to dig particularly deep that afternoon and you’d have to wonder if the hard race then has left its mark.
Mullins’ Arvika Ligeonniere destroyed the opposition with a powerful display of front-running and jumping in the Bar One Racing Drinmore Novice Chase.
He set a scorching pace for Walsh and had some more than useful rivals gasping for breath a long way out.
Heavily-backed favourite, Dedigout, who never really travelled for Davy Russell, tried to close through the final mile, but was always fighting a losing battle and was 11 lengths adrift of the winner at the line.
Said Mullins: “He did that very well, was very impressive. Neither Ruby nor I would have any problem bringing him back to two miles, maybe that’s his game.
“He will now go to Leopardstown (Christmas). He was very fast over the first four fences and I’ll keep running him as often as I can, for the experience.”
Remarked Walsh: “He pulled very hard, I wasn’t going that fast on purpose. He has a fair old engine.”
Jezki, who still has lots to lean when it comes to jumping, stamped himself a serious young horse when taking the other Grade 1 on the card, the Bar One Racing Royal Bond Novice Hurdle.
Walsh set a decent gallop on Mullins’ Champagne Fever, but they never quite looked like shaking off some decent rivals in behind.
The disappointing Minsk was the first to crack in the straight, as Barry Geraghty produced Jezki to challenge.
The winner got in tight to the final flight, but found loads for pressure and went away on the flat to beat Champagne Fever by a length and a half.
Commented winning trainer, Jessica Harrington: “He clattered the first and then jumped a bit big to Ballyhack.
“He’s a two-miler and the Supreme Novice Hurdle is the long-term target. He may have one or two runs before Cheltenham. He will probably run at Christmas and then we will see after that.”
Champagne Fever, who surely needs to step up in trip, emerged with credit. Mullins was making no excuses. “We were just beaten by a better horse”, he said.
Dessie Hughes’ Our Conor, impressive on his debut over flights at Navan, stepped up in class to easily take the Grade 3 Bar One Racing Juvenile three-year-old Hurdle.
The Jeremy gelding travelled beautifully through the contest, easing ahead for Bryan Cooper heading to the second last.
Stocktons Wing was soon out after him, but Our Conor had plenty in reserve, crossing the line a comfortable two and a half lengths to the good.
Said Hughes: “I’d have to say he’s a Triumph Hurdle candidate after that. From the first day he saw a hurdle he was a natural, he loves it.
“He will probably go to Leopardstown at Christmas now, I don’t see why not. He has a bit of foot, jumps and stays.”
The David Fenton-trained Avondhu Lady, going forward at a rate of knots, outbattled Our Girl Salley in the Irish Stallion Farms’ EBF Mares’ Handicap Chase.
There wasn’t a lot between them on previous form, but Our Girl Salley went off the 15-8 favourite, while Avondhu Lady was available at 10-1.
The pair had a real battle from between the last two fences, with Mark Enright getting every ounce out of his charge to score by a hard-earned half a length.
Reported Fenton: “She’s improving all the time and I thought had a chance at the weights. She’s tough, wants three miles and will stick to mares’ races.”
Enright completed a fine double when driving Shark Hanlon’s Murchu to victory in the three miles and five Caffreys’ Bar And Restaurant Of Batterstown Handicap Chase.
This was a real thriller, with Murchu beating Give Us A Hand and Bangonform by a nose and a neck, unbelievably narrow margins at the end of such a stamina test.
Said Hanlon: “He stays and gallops all day, but I was afraid of the ground. Mark gave him a super ride and he might be an Irish National horse one day.”
Willie Mullins completed a treble in the Bumper when his easy to back Outlander burst ahead over a furlong down to score going away by five lengths.
“He has shown me nothing like that at home’, admitted Mullins. “I thought he was an out and out galloper and has never shown us those gears.”
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