Mullins sets new record at Punchestown Festival

editorial image
Breaking records is a way of life for Willie Mullins. He has the most formidable team of horses and owners, not to mention stable staff, to be found anywhere.

Breaking records is a way of life for Willie Mullins. He has the most formidable team of horses and owners, not to mention stable staff, to be found anywhere.

Mullins, his horses and his team, broke his own record by saddling a fabulous 16 winners at last week’s Punchestown Festival, with no less than 10 of them coming at Grade1 level.

It was a phenominal strike rate of winners, by any yardstick, but Mullins makes a habit of such things.

He produced his record breaking Cheltenham team with the exception of Vautour ready for the fray, and there again they came up trumps to blitz the opposition.

The hugely exciting Douvan set the ball rolling when he conformed Cheltenham running with Sizing John to claim the Grade1 Novice Hurdle on the opening day.

An almost unbackable favourite, the five year old came for his race in the straight to lead before the last and go away to record an impressive seven and a half length success over Sizing John.

For a horse of his size and scope, Douvan is a superb athlete and now connections will be faced with a dilemma as to what road to take next season.

With Faugheen already installed as favourite to defend his Champion Hurdle crown, Mullins will have to mull hard and long about keeping Douvan hurdling. Like Vautour last year he has the stamp of a chaser about him and even though he is Champion Hurdle material, the chances are that he will end up novice chasing.

At this point many trainers are already plotting a different route for some of their potential novice chasers.

Like Bryan Cooper, for example, who rides for Gigginstown House Stud. Ruby Walsh got it wrong on a few occasions as he had the choice of mounts on most of the Mullins runners.

A case in point was Felix Younger, who was partnered by the trainer’s nephew, Danny when just getting the better of the Mouse Morris runner Baily Green in the Two mile Champion Chase.

Walsh sided with Champagne Fever, who was sent off a well backed favourite, but he was one of the first beaten and finished well adrift of the principals. On the other hand Felix Younger was given time to find his feet before coming with a well timed effort in the straight to nab Baily Green in the closing stages and take the money by half a length.

The Shark Hanlon runner, Hidden Cyclone, who is still seeking his elusive Grade1 victory, filled third place ahead of Mallowney. The latter, representing the Tim Doyle yard, ran a big race and was in contention before the home turn.

He is a credit to his trainer and has given much pleasure to his connections, who number T.D., Michael Lowry among his owners.

When Un De Sceaux unshipped Ruby Walsh on his chasing debut at Thurles with the race in the bag some punters questioned his style of jumping, but he has gone from strength to strength ever since with victories at Leopardstown and Cheltenham.

He further underlined his outstanding potential with an impressive victory in the two mile Novice Chase on ground which would be far from ideal. Making every post a winning one, the seven year old need just to be shaken up by Walsh to beat Just Cameron by three lengths.

One of the highlights of recent seasons has been the regular cashes between Hurricane Fly and Jezki over two miles. With 22 Grade1 victories and a couple of Champion Hurdles to his credit, Hurricane Fly has been an amazing horse but Jezki also has a hurdling blue riband to his credit.

However, the score tilted very much in favour of Hurricane Fly and both horses were stepped up to three miles for the first time in the Grade1 World Series Hurdle. In spite of it being a competitive looking race, punters failed to look beyond this pair in the market.

As things turned out they had the race to themselves in the end. Mark Walsh aboard the J.P. McManus owned Jezki played his hand first by sending his mount into the lead early in the straight.

Soon it became evident Ruby Walsh was not getting the required response from Hurricane Fly. Jumping the final flight in front, Jezki kept up the gallop to land the spoils by a length and threeparts with eight lengths back to the third finisher Zabana.

Now an 11-year-old Hurricane Fly has been like his trainer, setting records that will be hard equal. He ran his heart out but the younger legs of Jezki prevailed.

Winning handler Jessica Harrington told me that she was worried her charge might not see out the trip. She will have to consult with the owner and his team to map out a programme for next term.