THE Willie Mullins team has been slowly getting into its stride and although it had a few hotpots turned over in recent days it struck form with vengeance at Punchestown, writes Ned Tierney.
Mullins was the toast of the second stage of the two-day meeting, landing the three Graded races on Sunday’s card. Chief among these was the victory of the former Champion Hurdler Hurricane Fly in the Grade One Morgiana Hurdle, although his task was simplified by the fall of Go Native at the final flight when well in contention.
Making his seasonal reappearance much earlier than a year ago, Hurricane Fly was the only one that punters wanted to know about in the betting market, starting at the cramped odds of 2/5. With nobody willing to make the running rider Ruby Walsh decided to take the bull by the horns and sent the Mullins horse into the lead closely attended to by Go Native.
The pattern remained the same until the straight when Walsh kicked for home. Paul Carberry was alive to the move and had Go Native right on the tail of the leader at the final flight but he met the hurdle on a long stride and came down leaving Hurricane Fly clear. He duly made the rest, beating Captain Cee Bee by a dozen lengths.
What would have happened had Go Native remained upright is pure conjecture. However, he was still travelling well and we were deprived of a battle royal all the way to the line. Go Native’s trainer Noel Meade told me that he was delighted with the showing of his charge which has spent a couple of seasons on the sidelines since his victory in the Supreme Novices’ at Cheltenham. He still remains a class horse and will have the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, a race he won back in 2009, or a return clash with Hurricane Fly at Leopardstown, which would certainly add spice to the Christmas meeting at the Foxrock venue.
It was surprising to see Hurricane Fly drift slightly in the market for the Champion Hurdle as he did nothing wrong. Mullins reflected post-race that he was never happy with the horse last term. He seemed to settle well in front and will now go down the familiar route of the Istabraq Hurdle over the Christmas period at Leopardstown and the Irish Champion Hurdle at the same venue before heading to the Cotswolds in March.
Twinlight initiated the hat-trick for the champion trainer with a workmanlike success in the Grade Two Novice Chase over a two-mile trip.
Easy to back, the French import set off at a cracking pace which saw the odds-on favourite Oscars Well make his exit at the very first fence. The latter galloped loose and got through an ambulance gate on to the road, but thankfully was caught before any damage was done.
There was precious little between Twinlight and the Mouse Morris runner Baily Green for much of the journey. Baily Green edged in front after the last but Twinlight, responding to a fairly typical Walsh drive, regained the advantage close to home to prevail by a length.
A decent juvenile hurdler of a couple of seasons back the winner opened his chasing account at Listowel before scoring again at Galway Last month. He is very much on the upgrade and we will know more about him when he tackles Grade One company at Leopardstown.
Baily Green lost nothing in defeat. He was seeking his eighth success on the bounce but the testing conditions were against him and it will come as a surprise if we see him again before the spring.
The Bob Back gelding Back In Focus provided Mullins and Walsh with the middle leg of their three-timer with a fine staying performance to land the Grade Two Florida Pearl Novice Chase over two mile and six. Starting at cramped odds the seven-year-old was settled off the pace as Farrells Fancy cut out the running. The latter began to tread water going down the back where Back In Focus edged to the front.
Lyreen Legend attempted to muster a challenge before the straight but he was fighting a losing battle as Walsh kept Back In Focus up to his work to take the money by four lengths. Staying is obviously the winner’s forte and according to Mullins he will be aimed at some of the long-distance novice events with the RSA Chase at Cheltenham his seasonal target.
Noel Meade has been enjoying a good run in recent times and was on hand to greet Road To Riches which was an impressive winner of the opening two mile and a half maiden hurdle.
A point-to-point winner at Sligo before landing his bumper at Naas, Road to Riches was an almost unbackable favourite. He was given time to find his feet by Davy Russell before taking over with a mile to race, finding plenty when needed to beat the Mullins representative Pride Ofthe Parish by two and a quarter lengths.
A step up in class for a Navan contest is the next item on the agenda for the winner, after which further plans will be made.