Patrick Mullins confident Leopardstown ground will be ‘spot on’ for Festival
Champion amateur says victory for Faugheen would be the ‘big result’
Patrick Mullins guiding Faugheen to victory in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Novice Chase at Limerick on St Stephen’s Day. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
The Willie Mullins camp has expressed confidence in Leopardstown’s authorities providing suitable ground conditions for the upcoming Dublin Racing Festival.
Last year the second renewal of Irish jump racing’s shop window event was decimated by non-runners due to quick going.
A total of 22 horses were taken out of the second day including six of the ten declarations for the featured Irish Gold Cup.
It provoked scathing criticism of the failure to water the steeplechase course, an issue that returned to prominence after the recent Christmas festival when the final day’s Grade One novice chase got reduced to just three runners.
Willie Mullins withdrew a horse from that race and the champion trainer has been one of a number of prominent figures to urge watering at the track so safe going for next week’s lucrative action is assured.
Sure enough, plans for selective watering of the chase track are in place and on Monday Mullins’s son Patrick said he is happy that conditions will be “spot on’ for the weekend action on February 1st and 2nd.
“Last year was exceptional weather-wise. I don’t think anyone could be blamed for it coming up quick. Christmas was unusual. The first three days was lovely ground and the fourth day was safe ground. But it got quicker.
While we are thinking of Cheltenham, all these horses going there are ready to win
“I’d have full confidence that Lorcan Wyer [clerk of the course] and the team at Leopardstown will have it spot on. I think last year was an anomaly as it was such an unusual winter,” he said.
During a press conference organised by Horse Racing Ireland, Mullins described the festival – which features eight Grade One races and over €2 million in prizemoney – as perfectly timed between the Christmas action and Cheltenham.
With five weeks to Cheltenham the Dublin Racing Festival will see many of the Mullins team’s biggest names have their final starts before travelling to the Cotswolds in March. However the 30-year-old, who has been champion amateur rider 11 times, and partnered over 600 winners in all, also stressed the importance of the Leopardstown action in its own right.
“I would say with regard to the trainers’ championship it is very important to us,” Mullins said. “While we are thinking of Cheltenham, all these horses going there are ready to win. While it is a prep as such for the novices, the big events are worth huge money.
“The Irish Gold Cup is worth 140 grand to the winner. The Irish Champion Hurdle is 112 grand to the winner,” he added.
If he decides he wants to ride one of the others I’ll put my hand up. But Paul is the No 1 and he gets first shout
Another Grade One will be the Flogas Novice Chase on Day Two which could see Faugheen win a second top-flight chase having turned 12 at the start of the year. Mullins partnered the 2015 Champion Hurdle hero to a hugely emotional success at Limerick on St Stephen’s Day.
It prompted scenes around the winners’ enclosure that reminded the jockey of Hurricane Fly in his pomp.
“The Flogas is the preferred option. Two miles and five, a Grade One, back at Leopardstown. I imagine Paul [Townend] will want to get his leg back over him.
“If he decides he wants to ride one of the others I’ll put my hand up. But Paul is the No 1 and he gets first shout,” Mullins said.
However, asked what success will be for the sport’s strongest team at next week’s festival, the champion amateur said: “Kemboy [Irish Gold Cup] and Chacun Pour Soi [Dublin Chase] are obviously two very important ones. They’re going for the Gold Cup and the Champion Chase. But for me personally I’d love to see Faugheen win the Flogas. That would be the big result.”