Mullins moves in on title

WILLIE Mullins tightened his grip on the trainers’ title with a three-timer at Thurles on Friday. For good measure he was also among the winners at Thursday’s opening session, writes Ned Tierney.

WILLIE Mullins tightened his grip on the trainers’ title with a three-timer at Thurles on Friday. For good measure he was also among the winners at Thursday’s opening session, writes Ned Tierney.

The trainer joined forces with his son Patrick, setting the ball rolling courtesy of Annie Power in the two mile maiden hurdle.

A dual bumper winner for Jim Bolger, the daughter of Shirocco changed hands and joined Mullins. She added a third bumper when beating a solitary opponent at Listowel but the vibes coming from the yard suggested that she was schooling like a handicapper. It was no surprise to see her start an odds-on favourite.

Kevin O’Donnell’s runner Dubh Go Leir set off in front but the distress signals were out after the third last as Annie Power moved alongside. From there the latter drew away, winning by 13 lengths from Dubh Go Leir with further nine lengths back to the third finisher Byerley.

On the face of things this was a decent performance as the runner-up has shown plenty of promise in bumper races and on her two outings over hurdles. Bigger tests lie ahead but it will come as a surprise if the winner does not make her mark especially when stepped up in trip. Dubh Go Leir did nothing wrong but met a better animal on the day. Her turn cannot be too far away.

Maiden hurdle

Mullins was back in the winner’s enclosure half an hour later when Touch Of Eden captured the maiden hurdle for five year olds and over. Paul Townend had the leg up on the French-bred charge, which was also a warm favourite.

Given time to find his feet by Townend, Touch Of Eden was right on the premises turning to face the judge. Once his rider popped the question he quickened up well to race clear and beat stable companion Raise Hell by seven and a half lengths with Killshallago a further five and a half lengths further drift in third place.

A fine big horse, the winner has the scope to make a nice chaser. He gave his hurdles plenty of daylight and whatever he does over the smaller obstacles will surely be a bonus.

David Casey, who has been aboard many a winner for Mullins, was again on the plate as the trainer completed his hat-trick when Bishopsfurze battled well to take the two mile and six conditions hurdle. Ahead from shortly after the start Bishopsfurze was joined by Fulsome blue going across the top of the track but Casey had enough up his sleeve when push came to shove to take the money by a couple of lengths.

Twice a winner over fences last season, the son of Broadway Flyer is a course and distance winner. Mullins intimated that his charge will have another outing over hurdles before going back over the larger obstacles.

Wexford trainer Liz Doyle was on the mark when saddling Rating Queen to run out a game winner of the two mile and two handicap hurdle for claiming jockeys.

Course specialist

Something of a course specialist, the 11-year-old has secured her two successes at the venue and was backed to make it three. After jumping off in front jockey Kevin Sexton settled his mount behind the leaders.

The partnership regained the advantage heading towards the straight, showing plenty of resolve to take the money by half a length from High Class Show.

With three Grade One races on the card Sunday’s Fairyhouse fixture was arguably the best of the jumping season so far. Mullins was once again in the thick of the action, claiming a brace courtesy of Arvika Ligeonniere and Zaidpour.

Having spent a year on the sidelines after arriving from France Arvika Ligeonniere created a major stir when opening his chasing account at Punchestown back in May. He certainly looked the part as he blitzed a high-class field in the Grade One Drinmore Novice Chase over two mile and four.

Jumping from fence to fence under Ruby Walsh the seven-year-old had everything else in trouble - his 11-length winning margin could have been greater if Walsh desired. On this evidence he is a serious horse and looks like being our leading contender for Cheltenham honours.

According to Mullins he could drop back in trip, a move which gives the trainer plenty of options. His next outing in the shorter Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown will be eagerly awaited.

The clash of Zaidpour and Voler la Vedette in the Grade One Hatton’s Grace Hurdle over two and a half miles was tipped to be mouth-watering, but turned out to be slightly different as Zaidpour duly did the business.

Stable companion So Young dictated the pace until the straight where Voler La Vedette took over. He was quickly joined by Zaidpour which appeared to be going the better of the pair with Monksland right on their heels. Jockey Ruby Walsh drove Zaidpour into a clear lead at the final flight and with Voler La Vedette crying enough it was Monksland that followed him home two and a half lengths in arrears.

A dour stayer, the winner is likely to be kept to long distance races with the World Hurdle as an objective but the performance of Monksland is encouraging. A relatively unexposed horse, trainer Noel Meade believes him to be adaptable in terms of trip, which could make for interesting times ahead.