THE CURTAIN came down on the jumping season at Punchestown with the Willie Mullins stable dominating proceedings.
Mullins was crowned leading trainer, while his son Patrick scooped the top amateur prize. For good measure Paul Townend, understudy to Ruby Walsh, landed his first jockeys’ championship even though he had to miss the last few days of the meeting due to a recurring injury.
Mullins signalled his intentions early on by taking the Grade C handicap hurdle at Tuesday’s opening session courtesy of Johnny McGeeney. Given a superb ride by Townend, the six-year-old was never too far out of his ground. He hit the front heading to the final hurdle and, with Townend pulling out all the stops, prevailed by a neck from the favourite Nearest The Pin which was ridden by Davy Condon who happens to be a first cousin of the winning rider.
Appreciating the better ground, Johnny McGeeney showed great battling qualities. He will now be aimed at the Galway Hurdle later in the Summer.
Wednesday’s Champion Bumper provided the huge attendance with a thrilling finish with the Mullins runner Lovethehigherlaw just touching off the favourite Waaheb after the pair had the race to themselves in the final furlong.
Waaheb looked like justifying the huge price that owner J.P. McManus paid for him the previous week when he led into the straight but he was unable to withstand the final flourish of Patrick Mullins on Lovethehigherlaw and went under by a short head. These are two hugely talented bumper horses and will surely be close to the top when the new jumping season hots up in the Autumn.
Scotsirish completed a double for Mullins when rediscovered his best form to land the two mile and four Guinness handicap chase handicap chase in the hands of Ruby Walsh.
Although he failed to trouble the judge since the beginning of last year the Zaffaran gelding had been placed in the last runnings of the Topham Trophy at Aintree and was easy enough to back. Coming from well off the pace, Scotsirish availed of the fall of stable companion Apt Approach at the final fence before going on to beat the Eoin Griffin runner Lucky Wish by two and a half lengths.
Tom Foley created a major upset in the bumper when his charge Golanbrook outpointed the Mullins-trained favourite Alfred James.
Always close to the pace, Golanbrook led off the home turn and pulled out plenty under the trainer’s son Pat to beat Alfred James by a length and a half. Sporting the famous Danoli silks the winner is another earmarked for a hurdling career later in the year.
Bridge too far
The appearance of the legendary Kauto Star was a huge attraction in the three mile and a furlong Guinness Gold Cup. Many felt that it was a bridge too far for so late in the year and they were proven correct. The dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner didn’t travel well, with Ruby Walsh deciding to call it a day before the fourth last fence.
At the business end it was the 20/1 chance Follow The Plan under Tom Doyle that landed the spoils from Vic Venturi. Held up off the pace the son of Accordion made good progress to go second with three fences left to negotiate. At this point Robert Power had moved Roberto Goldback into contention but Goldback made a howler of a mistake, shooting Power out of the saddle and leaving Follow The Plan to come home in splendid isolation 11 lengths clear of Vic Venturi.
To the naked eye it looked as though Roberto Goldback was travelling slightly the better of the pair, but as the old adage goes fences are there to be jumped and in the end this is what made the difference. It was a sorry sight to see Kauto Star cantering past the post after the race finished but the packed enclosures gave him a resounding round of applause which left no doubt the esteem in which he is held.
Friday’s Champion Hurdle saw the mouth-watering confrontation of the reigning holder of the Cheltenham blue riband Hurricane Fly and the former champion Binocular. However, it turned out to be a damp squib as the Mullins trained Hurricane Fly simply toyed with the opposition - at the end of the day it was his stable companion Thousand Stars that followed him home five lengths adrift.
Thomastown staged the first show of the new season recently and it turned out to be an outstanding success. Celebrating 40 years, the show has gone from strength to strength and with exhibitors anxious to get a ribbon early in the season the showing classes were well supported. David Kirkpatrick made the long journey from Comber, Co Down worthwhile by taking both two and three year old gelding classes, as well as the championship of the show.
The hunt chase attracted huge interest with no less than ten teams from all over the country taking part it proved to be a brilliant spectacle. Victory went to the Killinick Harriers, however, the Kilkenny Hunt team of John Reidy, Debbie Cody, Trish O’Dwyer and Gillian Maddock put up a fine show only to their exit at the quarter-final stage due to a dropped baton. Francis Connors was the man in form in the jumping arena landing the Grand Prix in great style.
Addressing the crowd, long-standing chairman Watt Walsh assured all present that the best of this highly regarded horseshow is yet to come.