Mighty Mullins In Top Form – Weekend Review
The Willie Mullins/Ruby Walsh partnership stole the show at Navan on Sunday where the former rattled up a hat-trick of Graded winners.
One of Mullins’ trio was the 8yo Zaidpour, who made every post a winning one in landing the Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle by over 2l. While this victory was expected, it will have set him up nicely for the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle which he won in 2012, and was runner-up in last year.
Mullins also took the Grade 2 Fortria Chase with Twinlight, who jumped very well in the mud on this seasonal reappearance and will now head once more to the Hilly Way Chase at Cork next month, which he took by 6l last season. Soft ground will be key to his chance.
One with a more unexposed profile is Mullins’ Mckinley, who impressed in winning the Grade 3 novice hurdle by almost 3l. His hurdles record now stands at 3-6, and while he has yet to prove himself on very soft ground, he is improving and looks to have more big races in him.
Talking of big races, Mullins also confirmed that last season’s Arkle runner-up, Champagne Fever (8/11) will take his place in Thursday’s Grade 2 Clonmel Oil Chase, where he could look lock horns with the mighty, Sizing Europe (11/8).
While this will be no easy task for Champagne Fever on his first run of the season (Mullins suggested he may need it at the weekend), it will still give a big clue as to what progress he has made over the summer. And who knows, should he beat Sizing Europe, then his current odds of around 10/1 for Kempton’s King George Chase could be a lot shorter come the weekend.
In Britain there was drama at Wincanton where John Ferguson’s Purple Bay won the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle, in the process earning a quote of 14/1 for Sunday’s Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham. It may have been a different story, though, had Paul Nicholls’, Irving – a dual Grade 2 winner last term – not crashed out at the last. He came out of this okay and can make amends.
Nicholls enjoyed better luck when Southfield Theatre won the Grade 2 Rising Star Novices’ Chase. This victory took the exciting 6yo’s record over fences to 2-2, and he is now 16/1 for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in March.
Meanwhile, the Badger Ales Chase had a sour end when The Young Master was disqualified for not having the required three runs beforehand over fences. What shouldn’t be overlooked, however, is he is now 3-3 over fences and could still look well-handicapped if appearing at Cheltenham on Friday.
As for a couple of runners from the lower-end of the scale to keep an eye, then Sunday’s meeting at Ffos Las staged a couple of races with an interesting recent history.
The opening 2m novices’ hurdle for instance, has seen three of its last five winners taste victory next time out, including the classy pair, At Fishers Cross and Get Me Out Of Here. Such evidence reads well for this year’s winner, Oscarteea, who is well regarded by trainer, Anthony Honeyball.
Meanwhile, the concluding 1m6f bumper also witnessed three of its last five winners follow-up next time out, including Keys in 2010, who subsequently took a Listed event at Cheltenham. Sunday’s victor, Bidourey, is in the capable hands of David Pipe and looks one to keep on side.