Scripts torn up as second-strings orchestrate wins
It’s a guessing game as Mullins plays his Cheltenham cards close to his chest
Measureofmydreams completed a Grade Two double for the Willie Mullins string at Navan yesterday. Photograph: Donall Farmer/INPHO
Navan’s Sunday card contained much of jump racing’s winter narrative – small fields, odds-on favourites and another hat-trick for the dominant Willie Mullins – but any script presumption proved an expensive business, perhaps best characterised by a dramatic final fence fall for Black Hercules.
The 4-11 favourite travelled like a dream throughout the Ten Up Chase but tipped up at the final fence, allowing his stable companion Measureofmydreams to complete a Grade Two double for the Mullins team.
The famed “outsider-of-three” adage also proved correct in the card’s third Grade Two, the Ladbrokes Boyne Hurdle, as Snow Falcon proved too strong for the Gigginstown pair, Lieutenant Colonel and Dedigout.
Ultimately, it was Mullins’s bumper winner, Blow By Blow, who was the only one of five odds-on favourites to score, helping any sense of predictability to fade on the run-in to Cheltenham, with instead a popular new pursuit over the next four weeks likely to be trying to second-guess Willie Mullins’s festival running plans.
Famously reluctant to commit himself to firm targets unless he has to, organising the logistics of who goes where, and for what, among the sport’s most powerful string, will prove the sort of headache every other trainer can only dream of suffering.
The range of options for both Measureofmydreams and Black Hercules after the Ten Up was summed up in a plethora of ante-post quotes by bookmakers, although it seems significant that Black Hercules remains as low as 11-4 favourite for the four-mile National Hunt Chase.
“Black Hercules was running a great race until what happened happened, so I’m not changing plans – whatever they may be,” grinned the champion trainer. Well aware of ever-increasing festival speculation, but reluctant to pin himself down until he has to, he told reporters: “I’m keeping myself guessing as much as you guys!”
Measureofmydreams is in the four-miler, the RSA and the JLT, and will have to fit in with Gigginstown’s own festival arrangements, but the trainer said: “I imagine he can go, and I think he will prefer better ground. Pleasant Company [third in the Ten Up] is another who could run in the four-miler.”
The depth of the Mullins team is such that even a non-championship event such as the National Hunt Chase could yet see a Closutton team of horses, well worth Grade One consideration if they were trained elsewhere, yet look like providing Patrick Mullins with a rich choice as to which he will ride in the amateur race.
Even those pinning their hopes to the old ‘outsider-of-three’ adage must have been tearing up their tickets halfway through as Sambremont was all but tailed off behind his stable companion Tell Us More and the odds-on Ttebbob.
A mild surprise looked likely when Tell Us More took over at the third last, but his habit of jumping dramatically to the left appeared to contribute to his exit at the next. With Ttebbob looking very weary, Sambremont’s eventually got up for a length victory, was described by his trainer as “fortuitous”.
Cheltenham’s ground conditions are likely to contrast markedly with Navan’s “heavy”, so 12-1 quotes about the winner for the four-mile National Hunt Chase – twice the distance of Sunday’s race – seem logical.
“I think on good ground he would have been well behind and when I saw him entered I thought how can he [Mullins] have him in this race: and now look – €25,000 better off!” Walsh said afterwards.
One Mullins horse unlikely to be crossing the Irish Sea is Blow By Blow, but it was the impressive bumper scorer who notched his trainer a 150th winner of the season.
Snow Falcon’s jumping has let him down in the past but it looked much improved in the Boyne Hurdle and Noel Meade didn’t hesitate to nominate Cheltenham’s World Hurdle, for which he is now 25-1, as the winner’s next start.