Footpad the latest national hunt big gun to return to action at Naas
Elliott’s popular mare Apple’s Jade bids to repeat Lismullen Hurdle victory at Navan
Footpad: had a perfect five-from-five novice campaign last season that included victory in the Arkle at Cheltenham. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Willie Mullins takes the wraps off his first real big gun of the new winter campaign when the hugely exciting Footpad returns to action at Naas on Saturday.
With ground conditions finally starting to ease, Mullins wastes no time lining up Footpad for the Grade Three Poplar Square Chase, no doubt hoping it won’t produce a result like Samcro’s shock defeat for Gordon Elliott a week ago.
However the appearances of perhaps the most exciting young horses in the two most powerful yards in the country reflect how the National Hunt game’s major artillery is being unleashed.
Elliott runs ten horses at his local Navan track on Sunday. Admittedly that’s in the context of him running 11 in the Troytown Chase alone a couple of years ago although the ten include another genuine star of the winter game in Apple’s Jade.
The hugely popular mare will try to repeat her success of last year in the Lismullen Hurdle as she begins the route back to possibly reclaiming the Mares Hurdle crown at Cheltenham in March.
On the same card there could be an Elliott-Mullins face-off in the For Auction Novice Hurdle where Felix Desjy, already a 20-1 shot for the Supreme at Cheltenham, tackles a pair of Mullins runners including Quick Grabim.
They are among a handful of Mullins declarations for Navan but it is the five horses the champion trainer sends to Naas that will grab most attention with particular focus on Footpad.
He had a perfect five-from-five novice campaign that included the Arkle at Cheltenham – and that the steeplechase world is Footpad’s oyster is obvious from the Cheltenham ante-post betting.
He is 4-1 to dethrone Altior for the Champion Chase crown, favourite to land the intermediate festival title in the Ryanair, and as low as 12-1 for the Gold Cup.
Mullins has characteristically not committed himself to anything although such speculation might seem very premature if he can’t win on Saturday.
Footpad has over 50 lengths in hand on Arkle form against the welcome English raider Saint Calvados. He travels in search of soft conditions but also encounters a task perhaps beyond any horse this season in trying to beat Footpad.
“We saw this race, the conditions suit him very well, and then ‘Mr Footpad’ turns up!” his trainer Harry Whittintgon said ruefully.
“He schooled well and worked very well during the week,” Mullins reported on Friday. “It’s a nice race to get him out and back on the track. A second season novice like this is a lovely starting point.”
The other Grade Three at Naas is the Fishery Lane Hurdle for four year olds where Saldier – a 33-1 shot in Champion Hurdle betting – is Ruby Walsh’s pick from a pair of Mullins top-flight winners.
Bacardys is another Grade One winner over hurdles but proved a bitter disappointment in two novice chase starts last season. Mullins gives him another shot at the big obstacles in a Beginners Chase that also includes Any second Now and the newcomer Discorama who looks interesting.
Joseph O’Brien has a dozen weekend declarations on a home schedule with a noon start at Naas. But the range of O’Brien’s ambitions extend to Melbourne just over six hours before that when the Irish Derby hero Latrobe lines up at Flemington for the $2 million Mackinnon Stakes.
Mark Zahra rides the colt in the 10-furlong Group One (off at 5.55 Irish-time) which includes last weekend’s Victoria Derby winner Extra Brut and Godolphin’s Blair House.
Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup victory for Cross Counter was Godolphin’s fourth Group One win at the Victoria Spring Carnival which winds up on Saturday.
Aidan O’Brien will try to end it on an upswing by saddling four in the $1 million VRC Sprint (off at 5.10.) Ryan Moore again teams up with US Navy Flag and he is joined by Spirit Of Valor, Intelligence Cross and Fleet Review.