Willie Mullins enjoyed mixed luck as the Irish Grand National meeting got underway at Fairyhouse on Sunday.
While the trainer was successful with Daneking in the two mile Grade B 118-140 handicap hurdle Mullins was unlucky not to land the Grade One Powers Gold Cup when Ballycasey came down at the second last fence.
The Dylan Thomas gelding Daneking got the trainer off the mark with a smart display to land the valuable Easter Festival Handicap Hurdle, a hugely competive Grade B affair over two miles.
A decent enough animal on the level across the water, Daneking finally got off the mark over hurdles at Navan back in February. There were many who felt that he was pitched in at the deep end in such a competitive contest and as a consequence he was an easy to back 6/1 chance.
However, he failed to read the script and under a cracking ride by Paul Townend landed the spoils in fine style.
A little free early on, Daneking was well anchored by Townend but was never too far out of his ground. Travelling well he took over at the second last flight of hurdles and ran on to hit the wire three lengths to the good from Darwins Fox.
In his post-race remarks Mullins revealed the fitting of a hood helped the horse to settle. Punchestown might be on the agenda, but the trainer is thinking more in terms of the Galway Hurdle.
Although only four went to post in the Powers Gold Cup it was an intriguing contest. Ballycasey took on Rebel Fitz as the main protagonists but Bright New Dawn and the other Mullins runner Mozoltov also had their admirers. Ballycasey attempted to make every post a winning one and seemed to hold all the aces going to the second last fence but unfortunately came a cropper leaving Rebel Fitz to come alone 15 lengths ahead of Bright New Dawn.
Opinion was sharply divided as to what would have happened had Ballycasey stayed upright. Barry Geraghty, rider of Rebel Fitz, was adamant that his mount, while under pressure, was responding and would have won no matter what happened but it was a view not held by everybody.
Credit to handler
Rebel Fitz has been a credit to his colourful handler Michael Winters. His biggest success came at Galway in 2012, when he landed the Galway Hurdle amid scenes that have rarely been witnessed at the Ballybrit venue. He had scored five from seven over fences and although he had something to prove he rose to the occasion in great style.
Using what many would consider unorthodox methods Winters has come a long way since he worked in a local factory. He is now considering having a crack at the Galway Plate with Rebel Fitz, but he might take the Grimes Hurdle at Tipperary along the way.
Emperor Of Exmoor finally got his head in front to shed his maiden tag when taking the opening two mile maiden hurdle for the Dessie Hughes yard. With four decent efforts to his credit the Montjeu gelding was surprisingly easy to back as punters sided with the Jessica Harrington runner Rock The World. While the latter ran a decent race he had to be content with fourth place.
In contrast Emperor Of Exmoor was always in the firing line before hitting the front at the penultimate hurdle. In spite of being untidy at the final flight, the winner had enough in hand to beat Tawseef by a length. Speaking after the race Hughes said that while the winner lacks the gears to be in the top bracket he has stamina in abundance. He will be kept on the go for the Summer months, with Hughes confident that he will add to his tally.
Noel Meade and Paul Carberry have a tremendous record at the venue and they combined to take the two mile and a furlong novice chase with the well-supported Road To Riches. Carberry knows every blade of grass around this hallowed circuit and he allowed his mount to bowl along right from the drop of the flag, but the seven-year-old showed a tendency to jump out to his left at some of the fences.
Going to the second last fence Mallowney looked likely to make a race out of it but when Carberry urged Road To Riches answered the call and went on to record a comfortable three and three-quarter length victory. Post-race Meade said that Road To Riches can be a funny character. If things go his way he is fine, but he can also dirty his bib.
Those looking for a certain future winner would no doubt have noted the Tom Mullins representative Sir Scorpion, who finished second in the bumper behind the rank outsider Moon Racer. Making his debut, Sir Scorpion raced just behind the leaders early on but was bang in contention turning to face the judge. He had every chance a furlong and a half out but failed to hold the late surge of Moon Racer. Given normal improvement he will be very hard to beat next time he appears.