AFTER A QUIET spell Willie Mullins struck form with a vengeance at the Punchestown festival.
Mullins saddled no less than 10 winners over the rain-lashed five days, easily claiming the trainer of the meeting award. His brother Tom was also in good form, recording a brace on the opening day that included Alderwood in the Grade One Champion Novice Hurdle over two miles.
Having opened his account in a moderate maiden hurdle at Killarney back in May, the Alderbrook gelding has been a revelation ever since. Completing a hat-trick of festival victories at Punchestown, following up on successes at Cheltenham and Fairyhouse, means he is now the top two-mile novice hurdler in the land.
Under a powerpacked ride from Tony McCoy Alderwood was always in the firing line. He looked in trouble entering the straight but finished with a flourish to beat the odds-on favourite Trifolium by half a length.
This display was right out of the top drawer in terms of toughness and durability. The winner is now finished until the Autumn, when he goes chasing, and he looks an exciting recruit to the larger obstacles.
Some Article completed the double for Tom Mullins when running out a smooth winner of the Land Rover bumper under Mark Fahey. Unfancied by connections, the Definite Article gelding was never out of the leading duo. He slipped on entering the straight, easily landing the spoils by seven and a half lengths at the expense of Catamongdepidgeons.
Considered to be still babyish by the trainer, Some Article has a lot of filling out to do. On this evidence he is a horse with something of a future.
Sir Des Champs got Willie off the mark with a wide winning margin in the Grade One Champion Novice Chase over three miles and a furlong. Winner of the Jewson Novice Chase at the Cheltenham festival, the six-year-old was installed favourite with some bookmaking firms for next year’s Gold Cup so he was at restricted odds here, but the manner of his success posed as many questions as it answered.
Setting off in front under Davy Russell Sir Des Champs jumped to his left at several of his fences but had the race in safe-keeping when almost shooting his rider out of the saddle with a blunder at the last fence. His nearest rival Mossy Joe came to grief here, leaving the Mullins horse to come home alone by 36 lengths.
As a trial for the wider stage it was inconclusive as the field hardly measured up to Grade One level but Sir Des Champs could only beat what was in front of him. Gold Cup aspirations would look to be a shade premature until he takes on genuine Grade One three mile chasers next term.
Wednesday’s card had to be rescheduled due to the atrocious weather conditions which left pools of water on the track. The executive were forced to cancel the chases on the programme but it made little difference to Mullins, who took four of the five races on offer.
While Loch Ard in the conditions hurdle, Marasonnien in the three mile Champion Novice Hurdle and Flash of Genius in the bumper all did the business it was the display of Champagne Fever in the Champion Bumper that had tongues wagging.
Bred near Thomastown by John Cahill, the son of Stowaway won his point to point for Thomond O’Mara before joining the Mullins team. He made every post a winning one here to add to his Champion Bumper victory at Cheltenham.
The trainer is unsure what route to take now with the five-year-old. He could go down the Florida Pearl route and go chasing without giving a season over hurdles. Whatever road he takes he is a most exciting prospect and a huge advertisement for his sire Stowaway which stands at Ronnie O’Neill’s stud near Kells.
After his surprise defeat in the Champion Hurdle Hurricane Fly returned to winning ways when taking the Rabobank Champion Hurdle from Zaidpour. The race cut up badly however, with only four runners - three of which were trained by Mullins.
Quevega once again confirmed her status as the best mare in training with a thrilling victory over Voler La Vedette in the World Series Hurdle. In winning the race for the third time the French import proved that the testing ground posed no problem to her, but talk of a clash with Big Bucks are wide of the mark.
Mullins has no intention in changing the mare’s schedule next term. It will include an attempt at an unprecedented five in a row in the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham before going back to Punchestown to defend the crown she has held for the past three seasons.
Saturday’s concluding session saw the Mouse Morris runner China Rock finally show the form of which the trainer has always thought him capable of when landing the Grade One Guinness Gold Cup under Barry Geraghty.
The Presenting gelding looked destined for greatness when beating Sizing Europe at the venue a year and a half ago, but it has all been downhill ever since. Morris admitted that he has never been able to get to the root of the problem, but after his charge underwent stem cell treatment following last year’s Gold Cup the trainer had hoped that things might change.
This did not happen until Saturday when China Rock turned in his finest display so far. Leading early in the straight, he ran out a convincing five length winner over Follow The Plan.
Morris, who was elated post-race, is now hoping that now his charge has finally shown his true ability he will be a genuine contender at the highest level after the Summer at grass.