State Man graduates to Grade 1 success in Champion Novice Hurdle

Willie Mullins reached 201 winners for the season with a 71/1 four-timer on Friday

Anticipation of a Honeysuckle v Constitution Hill clash in next season’s Champion Hurdle is already in full swing but Willie Mullins is building a team to muscle into the championship picture too.

The Triumph winner Vauban will test his credentials during Saturday’s Punchestown action in the big juvenile prize.

However State Man is already as low as 8-1 for the big race next March after graduating to Grade 1 success in Friday’s Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle.

Paul Townend’s mount made light of the jump from handicap class and added the festival prize to his County Hurdle victory at Cheltenham.


The 11-10 favourite pounced late and proved seven lengths too good for the runner up Flame Bearer.

It brought Mullins’s Grade 1 haul for the week so far to eight with only Honeysuckle and Tuesday’s winner Mighty Potter interrupting his top-flight dominance.

“With a performance like that he could be a Champion Hurdle horse. That’s probably the route we will go down.

“He’s very novicey and improving all the time. Paul was concentrating on keeping him settled and when he picked up he switched gears. He was only going through the motions after that,” Mullins said.

The man who will be crowned champion trainer for a 16th time on Saturday reached 201 winners for the season with a 71/1 four-timer on Friday’s ‘Ladies Day’ fixture.

With a day to go, his festival haul for the week is 13, half a dozen shy of last year’s record tally of 19.

The double century mark was reached when Billaway completed the Cheltenham-Punchestown Hunters Chase double.

A final fence blunder by the evens favourite Vaucelet ultimately looked to prove decisive after a prolonged duel between the pair. Patrick Mullins’s mount ultimately ran out a length and a quarter winner.

“When push came to shove twice, at Cheltenham and here, he pulled it out. He keeps so much for himself in the locker and Patrick knows that. He’s a brave horse,” Mullins said.

Number 201 was El Fabiolo who justified odds-on favouritism with a smooth victory from his stable companion Ha D’or in a novice hurdle.

Earlier the new conditional champion Jack Foley did the steering on El Barra who made most of the running to land the novice handicap chase.

“A very polished ride,” was Mullins’s verdict. “He’s a very good young rider. He started off with my brother Tom and we saw how good he was.”

Elimay was another Mullins odds-on favourite in the Grade 2 Mares Chase but proved no match for the horse she edged out at Cheltenham, Scarlet And Dove, who reversed those places with a vengeance.

Bryan Cooper’s mount took the initiative from the start and try as Elimay did she was burned off early in the straight.

“Bryan gave our filly a great positive ride,” said Joseph O’Brien. “I suppose winning a Grade 1 would be the main objective next season. She’s a Grade 2 winner and a big mare so there’s no reason why she can’t be even better next year.”

Cooper praised his former employer Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud afterwards and added: “It was class. I just got into a lovely rhythm. It’s a jumping track. When you are on a forward-going horse and are jumping it’s one of the best places you can be.”

Charles Byrnes’ Green Glory belied 25-1 odds and obvious inexperience to land the bumper.

Ray Barron’s mount came through in impressive fashion and had enough in hand to survive a notable drift left in the closing stages.

At the line he still had almost four lengths in hand of the runner up Passing Well.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column