Mullins and Townend deliver top grades


RACING:Ruby Walsh continues his Christmas sojourn at Kempton today which is good news for former champion jockey Paul Townend who successfully stepped in for a St Stephen’s Day big-race double headlined by Arvika Ligeonniere in the Grade One feature at the Dublin track yesterday.

If Arvika Ligeonniere was spectacular when successful in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse earlier in the month, he was considerably more workmanlike in the Racing Post Novice Chase.

Morning showers turned the ground “soft,” and the Willie Mullins-trained star was stepping back in distance. But after leading with characteristic flamboyance for much of the race, Arvika Ligeonniere ultimately had to slog out a 2½ length victory over Oscars Well and Baily Green.

“He started idling turning for home,” reported Townend to Mullins, who had earlier seen the jockey carry American owner Rich Ricci’s colours to a Grade Two Q8 Oils Juvenile Hurdle victory on 4 to 9 favourite Blood Cotil.

Big-race winner

That one was slashed to a general 14 to 1 for the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in March. But bookmaker reaction to Arvika Ligeonniere was considerably more mixed with one firm, Boylesports, lengthening him a point to 7 to 1 for the Arkle at Cheltenham, and clipping English star Simonsig.

Despite that it will be the Irish Arkle over the same two miles at Leopardstown that will be next for Arvika, with Mullins unperturbed by any sense of a Christmas hangover surrounding his latest big-race winner.

“He got quite tired and he gave the third last a clout when Paul wanted to go easy and the horse kept going. He also jumped a little to the right. But he jumped the others fine,” he said.

“And you have to remember the horses behind him were much better over hurdles than he was. We know now he is capable of beating Grade One horses over two miles. So I would imagine the Arkle back here will be next.”

Blood Cotil’s task in the big hurdle was eased when ante-post favourite Our Conor had to defect due to coughing in the morning.

‘Our one worry’

The short-odds Blood Cotil subsequently made no mistake, overhauling Stocktons Wing at the last and winning without being asked for the maximum.

“Our one worry coming here was if he’d settle and he settled beautifully. We know he stays so Paul wasn’t afraid to go on and I hope he’s among the top of the Irish three-year-old class,” said Mullins. “I would imagine he will have one more run before March: probably come back here in February for the Grade One,” he added.

The day started off less than auspiciously for the Mullins-Townend combination when they had to settle for runner-up spots with The Paparazzi Kid and Urano in the maiden hurdles. The latter came up two lengths short of the odds-on Ned Buntline in a much anticipated clash that wound up with the winner cut to as low as 14 to 1 for the Supreme at Cheltenham after a reputation-restoring performance.

“That is a bit of a weight off my back. The second horse is a good horse and it took a good horse to beat him the last day,” said Ned Buntline’s trainer, Noel Meade.

Torrid time

“We think he is a good horse and hopefully he is. He will improve a good bit when he learns to settle and jumps more relaxed. He is still diving a bit at hurdles. He will for a novice somewhere now,” he added.

It was Mags Mullins that got the best of the other maiden when Anonis gave the trainer’s son Danny a torrid time at the front of the race, almost looking to refuse at the first down the back, and diving at the second last, before still managing to win.

“He just took a little look around,” explained Danny Mullins of the fifth-flight incident. “Tried to keep me awake!”

Victory was not a surprise with the trainer reporting: “I thought he’d win. I was just a bit worried he might be a bit green, which he was. He’s nice, tough and good.”

Katie Walsh provided the holiday crowd with a popular success on Jacksonslady in a handicap chase where jockey Harley Dunne picked up a six-day ban for careless riding in an incident where Senior Again’s rider David Casey was unshipped on the turn-in.

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