Min’s Leopardstown triumph points to greater days ahead
Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh enjoy 12-1 St Stephen’s Day treble at Leopardstown
Min and jockey Ruby Walsh go on to win the Racing Post Novice Chase during day one of the Christmas Festival at Leopardstown. Photograph: PA
Min missed his Cheltenham cue last season but looks set to lead Ireland’s Arkle Trophy assault at the next festival following a silky-smooth success in Leopardstown’s Grade One St Stephen’s Day highlight.
After landing the Racing Post Novice Chase in style, Willie Mullins’s latest outstanding novice is as low as 7-2 to gain his revenge on Altior in March.
Altior prevented Min following in the hoof-prints of two other Rich Ricci owned stars – Vautour and Douvan – in last season’s Supreme Novices Hurdle but the chances of some ‘deja-vu all over again’ over fences at Cheltenham look promising.
Douvan won Monday’s €90,000 feature en route to Arkle glory and if Vautour was a superb winner of the previous year’s JLT at the festival, Min has already trumped him by landing Leopardstown’s Christmas odds.
A memorable mistake ruined Vautour’s holiday chances in 2014 but there wasn’t a semblance of an error by Min as he made most of the running under Ruby Walsh to score at 4-5 from Ordinary World and Road To Respect.
In contrast his market rival, Identity Thief, made a series of errors before being pulled up after the fifth fence. Identity Thief was lame afterwards and trainer Henry De Bromhead said: “He’s sore but seems to be okay.”
If it’s back to the drawing board for Identity Thief, Min continues on course for Cheltenham where he proved expensive to follow over hurdles. Mullins though believes fences could be the making of a horse who has always carried a huge reputation.
“He used to gallop into hurdles and was too free and too fresh. But he has much more respect for fences and that settles him, which in turn means he has more pace at the end of his races. He jumped from fence to fence and put a lot of fancied horses under pressure,” said the champion trainer.
Min was the third leg of a 12-1 St Stephen’s Day hat-trick for Mullins, to go with three other winners at Limerick’s holiday fixture, which took him to a 101 winners for the Irish National Hunt season to date.
Bellshill’s impressive Grade Two success at Limerick emphasised the power of Mullins’s novice chase team which could leave him with an enviable headache splitting them up at Cheltenham.
“I hope I have these problems come March: this fella (Min) looks an Arkle type but could go out in trip too. Yorkhill could go out in trip. Bellshill looks more of a trip horse. And there’s American Tom too,” he said.
The Grade Two Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle threw up a future star in Apple’s Jade last Christmas and Mullins landed it again with the progressive Bapaume.
The French import reversed ‘Winter Festival’ Fairyhouse form with Landofhopeandglory and started a 13-8 favourite to do so.
Walsh secured a dream run up the inside of his rival’s stable companion Zig Zag after the second last and if it wasn’t a decisive move it certainly didn’t hurt Bapaume’s chance in a fast-run race.
“He wouldn’t excite you at home but he jumps, gallops and gets the job done which is what’s required with these four year olds,” Mullins said.
Bapaume is as short as 8-1 for the Triumph Hurdle and his stable companion Bunk Off Early is double those odds for the Supreme after an impressive victory in the opening maiden hurdle.
Mullins’s Castello Sforza, owned by JP McManus, started evens favourite for his own maiden hurdle but could finish only third to Joey Sasa although the McManus colours twice ended up in the Leopardstown winners circle.
Aeglos was an impressive bumper winner under jockey Tom Hamilton while Concordin overhauled Artful Artist in the closing stages of a dramatic novice hurdle. The runners had to bypass the final flight after an earlier fall but Mark Walsh forced the winner home by a head in the final strides.
Lake Takapuna eventually emerged best in a handicap chase where Powersbomb fell at the last when appearing to hold the initiative.
Grand National winning rider David Mullins delivered the winner from the rear to beat Dysios and Ball D’Arc. He then survived a stewards enquiry where interference on the run-in was judged to be accidental.