Willie Mullins gets benefit of strength in numbers with record Dublin Racing Festival haul

State Man gives Paul Townend more big race success on mixed weekend for champion jockey

If State Man justified favouritism for Willie Mullins in Sunday’s featured Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle, much of the rest of the Dublin Racing Festival action underlined his fondness for strength in numbers.

The champion trainer broke his own DRF record when a 1,739-1 five-timer on Sunday brought his weekend haul to eight of the 15 races.

They included six of the eight Grade 1 races but like Galopin Des Champs in Saturday’s Irish Gold Cup, State Man was the only No 1 stable pick to emerge victorious on the day.

Paul Townend’s “curate’s egg” of a festival continued as the champion jockey’s victory on State Man got mixed in with shock defeats on a pair of long odds-on favourites in Blue Lord and Facile Vega.


Instead, luck favoured Danny Mullins on Sunday. He made the most of Facile Vega’s spectacular blowout in the Tattersalls Novice Hurdle, pouncing on an apparently frantic pace to score on the 14-1 outsider Il Etait Temps.

Earlier he had picked up a prime Grade 1 “spare” on Gentleman De Mee in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase after Mark Walsh was stood down following an opening race fall.

With the 1-4 favourite Blue Lord a big disappointment, Mullins and Gentleman de Mee proved irresistible as the horse bounced back to his impressive novice form to win at 15-2.

Facile Vega faded to last of the five finishers and was perhaps the biggest surprise of all considering his trainer’s sky-high opinion of him, a judgment shaken but not broken after a first career defeat.

“We’re going to have to ride him like a racehorse and not a machine next time. That’s what Paul did today so we’ll change tactics next time and hopefully we’ll be back to what he is.

“They just went too fast in front. The pace was wrong, and Danny had his fractions right,” Mullins said.

As for his nephew’s capacity to profit on No 2 strings, Mullins added: “He’s some super-sub. He’s there riding second jockey when Paul is not there, and he just keeps riding winners for me.”

Marine Nationale is the new Supreme favourite although Il Etait Temps was cut to as low as 7-2 after his maiden Grade 1 victory.

In comparison State Man’s big-race success proved relatively straightforward, perhaps an indication of the quality he can bring to his clash with Constitution Hill at Cheltenham.

Townend, whose mixed bag on Saturday included another ticking-off by his boss for how he rode Lossiemouth, grabbed the initiative from the start and looked in control throughout.

Setting his own fractions, the 6-5 favourite quickened off a good jump at the second last and, game as Honeysuckle’s challenge in the straight was, she never looked like overhauling her rival.

“Paul didn’t see much to make it in the race so I said ‘Okay, do that’. It worked out. The horse is not used to being in front, but he jumped well enough in front and Paul thought he was a bit idle in front as well. He did everything right and you couldn’t ask any more,” Mullins said.

Odds-on favourites in €150,000 handicaps are rare but even with topweight Gaelic Warrior dominated the Liffey Hurdle to open up a range of big-race options.

“We always thought he had a serious engine and he’s progressing all the time. He’s in the Supreme and Ballymore, I’ll have a good chat with Paul later on and see what direction we go with him.

“We’ll see what the fallout of this weekend is and see what we have for different races.

“He’s inclined to go right but that seems to be only when he has the space to do that. He was very good even when he went right,” Mullins said.

Fun Fun Fun proved an aptly named eighth winner in the concluding mares bumper, shooting clear to win by almost 10 lengths from last year’s winner Lily Dy Berlais.

The Mullins show apart, Davy Russell’s return from retirement got Grade 1 vindication as he guided Mighty Potter to a smooth success in the Ladbrokes Novice Chase.

With the injured Jack Kennedy looking on as he continues his recovery from a broken leg, the veteran 43-year-old former champion enjoyed more top-flight success on a horse that’s now as low as 5-4 for Cheltenham glory in the Turners.

Whether or not Russell filling in for the injured Kennedy extends to Cheltenham remains to be seen.

Kennedy himself hasn’t ruled out making a near-miraculous recovery in the next five weeks.

“It’ll be tight, but I haven’t been told no yet so there’s still hope,” Kennedy said while Gordon Elliott’s support continues to be staunch. “Hopefully this man beside me [Kennedy] gets the okay to be back riding him. If he doesn’t, Davy is there but we’re hoping this man is back.”

The trainer’s decision to get Russell back from his short-lived retirement underlined how important big-race temperament can be, and the Cork man made little of being surrounded by five Willie Mullins opponents.

It obviously helped though that Mighty Potter looked much the best as the evens favourite shot clear of the 40-1 outsider Adamantly Chosen with Gaillard Du Mesnil in third.

“He’s good and was one of the carrots for coming back – he’s one of the standout novices,” said Russell who has insisted his return is on a temporary basis as Kennedy’s replacement. “He’s a horse for Jack to look forward to.”

Russell and Elliott later combined to also score in the Leopardstown Chase with The Goffer, with the jockey looking like he’s never been away.

“Davy was great on him. I told him to go out and take every chance – don’t leave the paint. In those big handicaps that’s what you have to do,” the trainer said.

Co Wexford trainer Liz Doyle intruded on the big gun domination with Ballybawn Belter landing the opening mares handicap hurdle for JP McManus and surviving a lengthy stewards’ inquiry afterwards.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column