Upazo on path-finding mission for Willie Mullins at Kempton

Ruby Walsh returns to the scene of many memorable moments

Upazo faces some of the leading British novices including The Liquidator in the Tolworth Hurdle at Kempton today.  Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Upazo faces some of the leading British novices including The Liquidator in the Tolworth Hurdle at Kempton today. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho


Willie Mullins

raid many people imagined would be a regular occurrence when the champion trainer first outlined plans to travel more horses to Britain, with five runners at both Kempton and Warwick, headed by Upazo in the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle.

Those firms who initially quoted prices for Mullins about the British trainers championship can now be seen to have got prematurely excited as the Irish champion is barely inside the top-50 with three winners from 13 runners worth just over €100,000.

However, that tally could take a hefty hike today with Upazo providing a valuable pre-Cheltenham marker for Mullins’s powerful novice team alongside the Listed Chase contender Twinlight at Kempton, while a trio of Closutton horses venture into unusual territory at Warwick.

They are headed by the Grand National candidate Vesper Bell in a valuable staying chase but the Grade One heroine Glens Melody goes in a Listed Hurdle while Rathvinden, 20/1 in some lists for both the Neptune and the Albert Bartlett at the festival, runs in a Grade Two Hurdle. David Casey rides all three.

Memorable moments
Ruby Walsh returns to the scene of so many memorable King George moments on Kauto Star at Kempton and it’s left to Paul Townend to team up with perhaps the most exciting of the Mullins novice team out this weekend – if weather conditions allow Vautour line up in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Hurdle at home in Punchestown.

Vautour is already favourite for the festival opener, the Supreme Novice Hurdle, after just one start in Ireland which yielded an impressive defeat of Lieutenant Colonel at Navan a month ago.

He is due to face five opponents today, the best of them possibly being Jessica Harrington’s Royal Bond also-ran Mr Fiftyone.

But the most intriguing race in terms of potential long-term impact could be the Tolworth given that Upazo faces some of the leading British novices including The Liquidator.

Upazo couldn’t win last season but has looked a different customer this term with two victories at Fairyhouse. With Faugheen, Briar Hill, Moyle Park and others waiting to be unleashed in less than 10 weeks time, Upazo provides a valuable path-finding function for Mullins here.

“He is rated very high by the handicapper here, and in England too, so it’s a case of running him to see where he fits in. We have a lot of nice novices and this will give some clue as to where he stands,” he said yesterday. “He took his time to warm to hurdling but won his last two races nicely.”

Tight track
Trainer David Pipe is fearful a relatively tight track won’t play to The Liquidator’s strengths but if Upazo can successfully graduate to Grade One class, then a collective shudder is likely to run down the spine of a lot of British trainers given the superior ammunition Mullins has at home.

Racing is due to open at Punchestown today with a Beginners Chase that will see Si C’etait Vrai represent some of the best Irish novice form this season.

However, he could find himself up against a tough opponent in Mullaghanoe River who looked to be travelling best at Down Royal on St Stephen’s Day when exiting at the second last in the race won by Leish Oscar.

Hold Em Cowboy should be a major player in the Opportunity Chase given he looks attractively weighted considering his last hurdles win, and how he was going subsequently in a chase when exiting under Ruby Walsh.