All roads lead to the festival for Pont Alexandre
RACING:Only Hurricane Fly could elbow Pont Alexandre from centre-stage at Leopardstown yesterday after the unbeaten French import put up a “huge performance” according to Willie Mullins which catapulted him to Cheltenham Festival favouritism.
An all-the-way 11-length rout in the Grade Two Synergy Solutions Novice Hurdle had bookmakers cutting him to favourite for both the Neptune and the Albert Bartlett, with Mullins nominating the shorter contest as the number one option.
Perhaps even more importantly for those prepared to dismiss Pont Alexandre as a dour winner of a slogging match on desperately testing ground, the champion trainer insists he views his big-money purchase from France as a “good ground horse”.
It was anything but that yesterday yet Pont Alexandre embellished an already sky-high reputation.
“He’s a gorgeous horse with size and scope and he’s certainly brave making all into conditions and wind like that. Ruby said the wind blew him sideways at one stage and this is a big horse,” Mullins said.
The conditions were so bad that the chase course was inspected before the two races over fences were run. Three fences were omitted but it made no difference to Mullins’s Rupert Lamb, who also made all in the Beginners Chase.
Mullins landed the Listed Mares Hurdle but not with the 2 to 5 Zuzka. Instead it was Glens Melody who comprehensively reversed Christmas form with her stable companion to earn 12 to 1 quotes for the OLBG.comMares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
“We rode her more positively today and it seemed to work,” Mullins said. “The other mare was never travelling and we could give her a break.”
The one blemish on the day for the all-conquering Mullins came in the opener when the odds-on Urano came up four lengths short of Legal Exit despite his market rival Some Article running out through the rail after jumping the first.
That started a mixed day for Tony McCoy who was also out of luck in the big race. However, he ended with a head success in the handicap chase aboard the gambled-on Competitive Edge.
A first winner in seven months for trainer Conor O’Dwyer, Competitive Edge got the better of Quartetto in the final strides.
A tilt at the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival is on the cards for Blackmail, who comfortably won yesterday under Robbie McNamara.
“I think he’s plenty good enough to run in the Cheltenham bumper,” said trainer Tony Martin. “I’d prefer to keep him as a novice hurdler until next season.”