Mixed emotions for Mullins as On His Own lands Boyne Hurdle
Andrew Lynch on Buckers Bridge (right) pulls clear of Ruby Walsh on Twinlight to win the Flyingbolt Novice Steeplechase at Nava, Co Meat, yesterday. photograph: inpho
Rarely has a trainer appeared to have had such mixed emotions about winning a Grade Two prize worth €40,000 – and seeing the winner promoted to favouritism for the Grand National in the process – as Willie Mullins did after On His Own’s victory at Navan yesterday.
On His Own usurped his stable-companion Prince De Beauchene at the top of some Aintree ante-post lists by landing the Ladbrokes Boyne Hurdle, a race picked by Mullins because he felt the horse couldn’t win it.
Keen to preserve novice status over the smaller obstacles for next season, while using them as an ideal warm-up for the biggest fences of all in Liverpool in April, Mullins instead looked to the 1/2 favourite Thousand Stars to put him in the Boyne Hurdle winners enclosure. But as if to prove that even a champion trainer on the verge of Irish racing history can get stumped sometimes, Thousand Stars trailed in last on desperately deep ground and On His Own bounded to success in just his second ever start over hurdles.
“I was thinking of keeping his novice status and put him in a hurdle I thought he couldn’t win,” Mullins grinned ruefully. “But it’s good he’s lost that status by winning a good prize. I think he’ll have one more run before the National, over fences if I can find a suitable race.”
Mullins’s Aintree hand also contains the other horse at the top of the betting, Prince De Beauchene, who will reappear in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse on Saturday. “Prince De Beauchene did a fantastic piece of work this morning and coming here, I’d have picked him from the two,” he admitted.
“But On His Own is going back to Aintree having run so well there last year and we know he handles the track. It’s a hard choice and you’d have to be looking very seriously at this horse after that.”
Mullins’s quandary was emphasised by a rare poor run by Thousand Stars but Ruby Walsh advised him it was all due to the ground.
“You can see the muck almost up to Thousand Stars’ knees while it was only up to On His Own’s ankles. And he’s a giant of a horse. Thousand Stars just disappeared into it and I’m still thinking of the Aintree Hurdle for him,” Mullins said.
Later victories for Terminal in the Ten Up Chase and Made In Germany in the bumper saw Mullins’s total of winners for this season hit 153, just a couple short of Aidan O’Brien’s all-time record of National Hunt winners in a season set in 1995-96. Mullins could break the record at Punchestown today where he has five declared runners, and it must be short-odds about him reaching the magic 200 mark before the end of the campaign. More immediately though Thousand Stars’ eclipse was a just one of a series of poor results for punters that saw only two market leaders succeed on the day, and four odds-on shots fail to collect. Chicago Grey, the 2011 Cheltenham festival winner, started a 25/1 rank-outsider of the four runners in the Red Mills Chase but proved much too good for Rubi Light Co, earning 20/1 National quotes himself in the process. Earlier the 8/15 City Slicker put in anything but a slick performance in the maiden hurdle. Running far too keenly throughout, he also jumped noticeably right and forced Ruby Walsh’s hand by getting to the front before the halfway point. Ultimately he ended up a target for the Andrew Lynch ridden winner Uncle Thistle.
Lynch completed a double in the Flyingbolt Novice Chase, again getting the better of Walsh, with Buckers Bridge edging the verdict by a head.