Mullins set to play decisive Hennessy hand
Darlan (Tony McCoy, far side), a leading contender for the Champion Hurdle, suffers a fatal fall in the Listed 32 Red Hurdle, overshadowing victory for reigning champion hurdler Rock On Ruby (foreground) in the hands of Noel Fehily. Photograph: John Giles/PA
RACING:Not since the days of the legendary Tom Dreaper and his 10 Irish Grand National victories has a trainer hogged a big race in this country the way Willie Mullins continues to dominate the Hennessy Gold Cup, a hot-streak he aims to maintain at Leopardstown this Saturday, with a remarkable ninth win in his sights.
Mullins will run his big Cheltenham Gold Cup hope Sir Des Champs in the €160,000 highlight of a multiple Grade One card that is Ireland’s last big trial date for next month’s Cheltenham Festival.
However, the champion trainer has also left in last year’s winner Quel Esprit, out of action since running in France last May, who features among eight horses in total remaining in the Hennessy after yesterday’s five-day forfeit stage.
The scale of Mullins’s dominance in Irish National Hunt racing right now is he could easily saddle the favourites for the three other top-flight races on the card.
Un Atout remains alongside his stable-companion Champagne Fever in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle, while Boston Bob and Back In Focus look to dominate the eight remaining in the Dr PJ Moriarty Novice Chase. Mullins can choose between Blood Cotil and Diakali in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle.
But yet again it is in the Hennessy the Co Carlow-based maestro looks set to play a potentially decisive hand.
Another clash between Sir Des Champs and the Peter Casey-trained Flemenstar will be the main selling point of an all-Irish feature this weekend but nobody comes close to Mullins’s ability to crack the Hennessy code.
Florida Pearl’s 1999 victory was the first of four for that star, while Alexander Banquet and Rule Supreme also pitched in. Kempes scored in 2011 and Quel Esprit followed up last year.
Tom Dreaper’s famous 10 Irish Nationals came in a 24-year period between 1942 and 1966, making Mullins’s success ratio even more impressive. Bookmakers reckon it is set to be a straightforward head-to-head between Sir Des Champs and Flemenstar, with Paddy Power just edging favouritism to the latter at 6 to 5.
Bog Warrior, like Sir Des Champs, owned by Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown, is rated next best for a potential successful return to fences after two impressive displays over hurdles recently.
Ground conditions at Leopardstown yesterday were “soft to heavy” on the steeplechase course and “yielding to soft” on the hurdles track.
A number of fences had to be bypassed at Leopardstown nine days ago during the Irish Champion Hurdle fixture and conditions will also be testing for the novices in the Dr PJ Moriarty.
Noel Meade’s Texas Jack landed a Grade Two at the last meeting, ahead of Lord Windermere, and both remains possibles to take on the Mullins team in the 2m 5f Grade One.
However, Lord Windermere’s trainer Jim Culloty reported: “I just entered him in case the race cuts up. He’s fine and cantering away. There is a chance he’ll go straight to Cheltenham for his next run. I’ve not had a chance to look at things properly but I would say the RSA is where he’ll most likely run.”
John Quinn’s Countrywide Flame crossed the Irish Sea last year to use the Spring Juvenile Hurdle as a springboard to Triumph Hurdle success and John Ferguson has kept open the option of doing the same with his Chepstow Grade One winner Ruacana.
Ferguson has also left Buthelezi in the Deloitte and another potentially valuable cross-channel novice form link could come from Melodic Rendezvous, winner of the Grade One Tolworth at Sandown on his last start.
Saturday’s bumper is the least valuable of the eight races in terms of prizemoney but it could see former champion jumps trainer Aidan O’Brien return to his National Hunt roots with the unraced Brave Hearted. Owned by the champion flat trainer’s wife Annemarie, Brave Hearted is by the top stallion Galileo. Salsify took in the Raymond Smith Memorial Hunters Chase last year enroute to festival glory and remains on course to follow a similar pattern this weekend.
Fairyhouse confident Inspection 8am
Fairyhouse inspect at 8am but authorities are confident today’s fixture will go ahead despite an uncertain weather forecast and heavy ground conditions.
“We should be able to take a certain amount of rain,” said manager Peter Roe.
“And for the first time in a while, I’m confident we should be okay.”