Mullins eyes Japan trip for Felix Yonger after Punchestown win
Sunday hat-trick follows on from trainer’s unexpected Doncaster blank
Felix Yonger ridden by Ruby Walsh clears the last on the way to winning the BoyleSports Tied Cottage Steeplechase at Punchestown. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA
The attention that comes with having assembled perhaps the most powerful string of National Hunt horses ever seen is hardly a drawback that will have Willie Mullins’s rivals weeping in sympathy, although the champion trainer’s mixed fortunes at the weekend does indicate the forensic focus that will increasingly be on both him and his horses on the run-up to Cheltenham.
Felix Yonger’s success in Punchestown’s Grade 2 feature was the focus of another Mullins Sunday hat-trick, but a rare blank the day before, when a cross-channel raid saw a number of his runners either disappoint, or crash out, in the manner Djakadam did at Cheltenham, had the speculation train swiftly gathering steam.
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Even some of the stable’s lesser lights will be of interest. After the odds-on Myska finished last in Punchestown’s Listed Novice Hurdle, she was reported to be coughing, not the news any trainer at any time likes to hear since a rogue bug can scupper even the most carefully formulated plans, and certainly the kind of news to set rumour-mongers a-flutter. The reality, as Mullins quickly pointed out, was more mundane.
“There’s no lung infection, no throat infection and I think she might have just got a bit of kick-back as she was racing in behind,” he explained, before outlining his rationale for why the trio of runners he sent to Doncaster on Saturday had failed to live up to expectations.
“I think they may have got a chill on the ferry across because they ran too bad to be true. They mightn’t have been good enough to win but I certainly wasn’t happy with them,” he said.
“Up For Review was beaten too far out and Shaneshill was flat out the whole way. I certainly wouldn’t be writing them off for Cheltenham.”
Mullins added: “Djakadam had a few stitches put in at the top of his chest and will be just walking for a few days. I think I’ve enough time [for Cheltenham] providing the cut doesn’t get infected.”
That Felix Yonger advertised his claims for joining Un De Sceaux in the Champion Chase by overhauling Flemenstar on unsuitably testing ground might, ironically, not be enough to earn him a Cheltenham ticket as Mullins has more far-flung options.
“It’s very expensive to go to Japan but it’s worth huge money and we believe he is better on quick ground,” Mullins said. “Ruby [Walsh] said he’s still improving – at 10! I imagine he will either go to Cheltenham or go to Japan.”
Graham Wylie’s colours were also victorious in the finale with Battleford, who made all to earn a slot in the Champion Bumper and attract 16-1 quotes for that race.
“He’d been doing nice work and I’d imagine he’ll go on the boat,” said Mullins, who picked up the opening maiden hurdle with Balko Des Flos.
Bonny Kate gave an exhibition from the front in the stamina-sapping Grand National Trial and made her first handicap assignment look easy, beating another mare, Baie Des Iles, by six lengths.
Noel Meade will consider the four-mile National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham for Mala Beach’s sister.