WHEN Willie Mullins announced at Clonmel a couple of weeks ago that his horses were just beginning to strike form it was time to sit up and take notice.
Never a man to make wild predictions, Mullins was right on the button as, during the past week, he swept all before him. A Fairyhouse three-timer on Wednesday was followed by a similar score at Thurles on Thursday. After that it was on to Punchestown which yielded a brace on Saturday and a fabulous four-timer on Sunday.
Ceol Rua and Sous Les Ceiux (ridden by Ruby Walsh) as well as Are Ya Right Chief, which was partnered by Mullins’ son Patrick, did the business at the Meath venue on Wednesday.
In Thurles Popcorn landed the opening two mile and two beginners chase to make it a real family occasion. The French import, which was making his chasing debut, is owned by the trainer’s wife Jackie - for good measure Patrick was in the saddle.
Now an eight-year-old, Popcorn has been a model of consistency. He was a Galway bumper winner last December before shedding his maiden tag over hurdles here back in March - the only time that he was out of the first two was in a hot Punchestown hurdle back in May.
Always prominent, the Roakarad gelding took a definite advantage after leaving the back straight. Patrick held enough up his sleeve to see off the challenge of the favourite Rathlin by five and a half lengths. The fact that the pair put 13 lengths between themselves and the third-placed finisher Forjoetheplumber would suggest that they are above average and can be followed in the months ahead.
Rathlin certainly caught the eye. He started favourite but several sloppy jumps left him too much to do, but his trainer Mouse Morris is a past master at getting issues like this right. We can expect to see the son of Kayf Tara recover losses before very long.
Another French-bred, Turban, was the middle leg of the hat-trick when he made a successful Irish debut to take the four-year-old maiden hurdle under Ruby Walsh.
Trifolium was a heavily supported favourite here but after being prominent in the straight he found little when the tap was turned on gong to the final flight and eventually had the be content with third place. In contrast Turban, which took a little time to warm to his task, was full of running once the home straight was reached and quickly settled the issue after jumping the final hurdle.
At the post he had a length and a half to spare over Folsom Blue, but the manner of his success augurs well for the future as he showed a nice attitude when the chips were down. In his post race remarks Mullins revealed that he was of the opinion that his charge needed the race so it was a pleasant surprise. He will now be on the look out for a novice event and possibly a step up in class.
Patrick Mullins was again in the saddle when Pickapocketortwo caused a major upset when turning over the odds-on favourite Ipsos Du Berlais in the extended two mile and six novice hurdle.
Another pretty consistent performer, the Fruits Of Love gelding was a maiden hurdle winner over three miles at Sligo but was caught out when dropped back in trip at Fairyhouse. Clearly relishing the testing conditions, he outfought Ipsos Du Berlais to the tune of half a length. It looks as though he will be difficult to beat in many of the good staying races from here on.
Champagne Agent was a hot order to give Mullins a four-timer in the bumper but he ran up against a very nice horse in the shape of Touch Back and had to be content with second place. A good looking son of Shantou, which stands at Victor Connolly’s Burgage Stud, he had a promising outing at Gowran Park over a year ago and had not been seen in the meantime. Word about him was good and he challenged Champagne Artist for favouritism right from the word go.
This pair had the race to themselves from early in the straight, but it was evident that Touch Back was going the better inside the two furlong marker. From there he drew away to win comfortably by four and a half lengths. Winning trainer Christy Roche told me that a hurdling career now beckons for the five-year-old, which is owned by JP McManus and ridden by Kevin Power, whose father John is the McManus family legal adviser.
Inistioge-born rider Tom Doyle continues to boot home the winners and he was seen to good effect when taking the five-year-old maiden hurdle aboard Lord Windermere for the Jim Culloty yard.
An unconsidered 25/1 chance, the Oscar gelding arrived on the scene at the fence before the straight and shot clear from the second last to hand a six and a half length beating to the Tom Foley representative Golanbrook. The winners is a chaser in the making according to Culloty; not many would disagree with him since he had such a great innings aboard the mighty Best Mate.