Willie Mullins brings up treble as Bellshill takes Punchestown Gold Cup
Champion trainer closes gap on Gordon Elliott to this year’s title
Bellshill ridden by David Mullins (left) jumps the last ahead of Djakadam ridden by Patrick Mullins to win the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Bellshill saw off stable companion Djakadam to claim top honours in the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup to give Willie Mullins a hat-trick of wins at Punchestown as he closed the gap on Gordon Elliott in the battle to be nemed top trainer.
Willie Mullins saddled four of the 12 runners in a bid to win the race for a fourth time and it was Djakadam, ridden by the champion trainer’s son, Patrick, who led his rivals a merry dance for much of the extended three-mile journey.
Bellshill, who finished a weary fifth in the Irish Grand National just over three weeks ago, tracked him into the straight and got the better of a thrilling duel after the final fence to win the day.
Road To Respect, the 7-2 favourite, passed the post in third.
Winning rider David Mullins said: “This is brilliant. To get one for Willie this week means a lot.
“The old horse does everything so perfect, it’s just a shame that when he comes down to the last he gets a bit idle. I thought I’d have won the Irish Grand National on him, but that’s racing and finally I got a big one on him.
“I thought I had Patrick well beaten going down to the last — he pricked his ears and got idle, but we got him over the line today.”
A delighted Mullins was clawing back well over €200,000 euro in his title battle with Elliott, and said: “I think Bellshill deserved that.
“I thought the stewards were very hard on him at Fairyhouse after what he did [passed the post in fourth but placed fifth after casing interference at the last fence] and he’s run some fantastic races all year, so that has put the icing on the cake.
“It hasn’t been a great year for Graham Wylie with his horses this year so it’s very well deserved from him point of view as well.”
He added: “Djakadam ran a cracker. Patrick got a great tune out of him.
“He likes this place, I know he hasn’t won for a while and I thought for a minute there today he might do it, but he ran a real cracker.”
Delighted owner Wylie said: “He deserved that, because he ran so well in the Irish Grand National and he just made one mistake coming to the last.
“David gave him a great ride and I’m very pleased for David as he gets on really well with the horse, that’s why we kept him on board.”
Patrick Mullins added: “He ran his heart out again, he was just leaning and jumping slightly left all the way, but I think Bellshill had us well cooked at the second-last.
“He’s a superhero of a horse, he’s been second in the race four times and we’re very lucky to have him.
“He loved it and I enjoyed myself, too.”
Next Destination was made to pull out all the stops before claiming a thrilling victory in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle.
The Mullins-trained six-year-old won his first three starts over hurdles, including a Grade One success at Naas, before finishing third behind Samcro in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at last month’s Cheltenham Festival.
Stepping up to three miles for the first time, he was the 5-4 favourite to rediscover the winning trail in the hands of Paul Townend and travelled strongly for much of the way.
Just when it looked as though victory was assured, Elliott’s Delta Work lunged late, but Next Destination held him off by a neck.
Colin Tizzard’s British challenger Kilbricken Storm, winner of the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham, was the same distance away in third.
Mullins said: “I couldn’t see him winning at any stage until he got his head in front, and when Davy Russell [on Delta Work] came up behind, it seemed to spur our fella on.
“He’s lazy and if you remember back to when he won in Naas, he was the opposite and nearly threw away a race by being too keen.
“Paul was able to settle him early on today and keep everything for the end.
“He could easily go chasing next season, but I’ll have to discuss that with Mr [Malcolm] Denmark [owner].
“He’ll probably start off chasing and if it doesn’t work out he can go back hurdling. He could be a top-class hurdler in the staying division.”
For Townend the victory provided Grade One redemption following his costly error aboard Al Boum Photo in Tuesday’s Growise Champion Novice Chase, which resulted in a 21-day ban for the rider.
“He was tough and he had to pull out all the stops there. It rode a solid race,” said Townend.
“Yesterday is yesterday and I’ll put it behind me now. I have a good man behind me.”
Townend and Mullins got off the mark on day two as Pravalaguna (11-4) claimed the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel Hurdle.
The six-year-old previously finished fourth at Fairyhouse but she showed her rivals a clean pair of heels with an eight-length verdict over Not Many Left.
Mullins said: “She is a good mare and has been a bit unlucky, but that was a nice race to win with her.”
Townend added: “She did it very well. She travelled great and jumped super. It’s nice to get one on the board.
“I was going that well I was able to sit and wait for it (the split) to come. I couldn’t believe how well I travelled into the race to be honest.”
Prince Garyantle ran his rivals into the ground with a game all-the-way performance to cause a 25-1 upset in the opening Adare Manor Opportunity Series Final Handicap Hurdle.
Adam Short had no stamina concerns on the Matthew Smith-trained eight-year-old, who kept up the gallop and his advantage over the opposition.
Prince Garyantle came home virtually unchallenged by eight and a half lengths from Sophie Leech’s British raider Man Of Plenty. Killaro Boy, the gamble of the race, was a further four and a half lengths away in third and Nobody Home was fourth.
Smith said: “I was a little bit worried that fitness might catch him out as it is six months since he ran. I’m delighted as they are a sound bunch of lads that own him.
“He was entered in a couple of races (here this week), but he wouldn’t have got into the other races so I had this in mind.
“He’ll be on the go now for the summer. We said we’d see what happened today but the plan was to go chasing and he could run on the Flat as well.
“He won in Tramore and Kilbeggan last year before improving a lot to win by 23 lengths at Clonmel and he’s after improving again. He keeps surprising me.”