High Drama at Leopardstown as Whiskey Sour enjoys sweet surprise

Jack Kennedy unseated while Sharjah and Real Steel fall at Future Champions hurdle

 

Accusations of boredom are routinely flung at the duopoly exercised by Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott, but their Grade One fortunes at Leopardstown on Wednesday were anything but predictable.

For a change it was the 28-runner Paddy Power Chase, one of the biggest handicaps of the season, which turned into a near-routine seven-length romp for the Tony Martin-trained Anibale Fly.

“You wouldn’t have had a worry at any stage of the race, watching it,” said Martin of the 14-1 winner who gave owner JP McManus a sixth win in the €190,000 feature.

In contrast, if you took your eye off either top-flight contest for a split second, you risked missing out on events venturing close to melodrama.     

Admittedly, the disqualification of the 2-7 favourite Min from the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase was ultimately a comparatively straightforward case considering how he impeded the English raider Simply Ned from the final fence.

Min bumped Simply Ned twice, resulting in bits of running rail flying dramatically. Since there was only half a length in it at the line, the stewards’ call was logical even if it only handed Min’s rider Paul Townend a two-day careless riding ban – which appeared a little lenient.

But if Townend got lucky there, his luck deserted him with a vengeance in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle, a top-flight race that wasn’t so much unpredictable as bizarre.

Elliott’s evens favourite Mengli Khan hadn’t jumped particularly well, but there’d been no hint he would run out through the wing of the second-last.

He did anyway, and Jack Kennedy’s Christmas, which had taken another wrong turn when the teenager was unseated from Ball D’Arc in the previous Grade One, took another unexpected turn for the worst.

Outsider

Then again, few could have seen Whiskey Sour emerging on top. The outsider of Mullins’s four runners was a long last for the first half of the race and, although he closed on the turn-in, Mengli Khan’s crash looked to leave the race between Sharjah and Townend’s mount, Real Steel.

Remarkably, both Mullins-trained horses fell independently, leaving Whiskey Sour to swerve his way through the carnage and ultimately win by 19 lengths under David Mullins.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. Losing the race in the stewards’ room, then Mengli Khan jumping out. I thought then we’d be first, second and third, and the two fall individually. It was extraordinary stuff. I was waiting for them to bring down our third and really cap the day,” Mullins said.

“I asked David, ‘how did you miss all those horses?’ and he said ‘it’s lucky he’s small!’” the champion trainer added. “It was an extraordinary race and I don’t know what to take from it. It was a lucky win – end of story.”

Whiskey Sour is the smallest horse in the Mullins yard at 15.2hh, but he provided owner Luke McMahon with another memorable moment at Galway in the summer when winning the big amateur prize under McMahon’s son Aubrey.

Mullins appeared frustrated about Min’s disqualification, a performance that saw his Queen Mother Champion Chase odds almost double with some firms to 6-1.

“What happened happened, and that was it. The stewards disqualified him and what more is there to say. It was tough to lose it.”

Career high

It proved to be a career high for Simply Ned who was running in the race for a fourth time but had Mark Walsh on his back for the first time.

“He’s given him an absolute peach of a ride. What a ride he gave him. Mark came in and was adamant he would have won. The old horse was coming and I’d say justice has been done today,” said veteran north of England trainer Nicky Richards.

“The other horse clearly gave him a couple of bumps and the second one was a fairly hefty one,” he added. “It’s took a bit of doing but we’ve got there at the end. He’s been a great horse and it’s great he’s got his day at the top.”

Anibale Fly earned 25-1 quotes for the Aintree Grand National after his impressive victory under Donagh Meyler in the Paddy Power.

The former smart novice made light of conceding weight to all bar one of his opposition and was in control from the last. The 2015 runner-up Ucello Conti was second again while McManus’s 4-1 favourite Squouateur finished third after staying on well in the closing stages.

It was a boost for Tony Martin, long renowned as “the handicap king”, who said: “This is what you get up every day for, to have days like this. It doesn’t happen too often but when it does it’s great.

“Bad old mornings, horses going bad, things going bad and the job going bad: when you get a boost it rejuvenates the whole lot. He’s always been a good horse but things haven’t gone his way. He won well for a competitive handicap. He’s after going through [the handicap] roof there and could be anything.”

The Mullins team wound up with a hat-trick on the card after Carefully Selected gave Patrick Mullins some bumper consolation after his earlier fall from Sharjah.

“He [Sharjah] was going to win. He met it on a stride but just didn’t get there,” the top amateur rider said ruefully. In the first Mr Adjudicator earned 20-1 Triumph Hurdle quotes with an easy maiden success.

Henry De Bromhead saddled his fourth Leopardstown festival winner with Trainwreck comfortably landing the handicap hurdle under Dylan Robinson.

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