Willie Mullins has another big Newbury handicap in his sights
David Mullins on board as Benie Des Dieux returns to action in Naas feature
Barry Geraghty on Bleu et Rouge (right). The JP McManus-owned star will run in the lucrative Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
It is two months since Willie Mullins ventured to Newbury to end a long Irish drought in the Ladbrokes Trophy, and the champion trainer is back on Saturday with another big handicap prize in his sights.
Bleu Et Rouge is his hope for the lucrative Betfair Hurdle, and the JP McManus-owned star will have Barry Geraghty on his back.
It is 13 years since Geraghty rode the last Irish-trained winner of this race, Essex, although Mullins has never managed to win it before. In December he did, however, bridge an even longer 37-year gap when Total Recall became the first Irish-trained winner of the Ladbroke Trophy – formerly the Hennessy.
Just two horses, High Bridge and Jenkins, are above Bleu Et Rouge in the handicap, and Mullins said: “He has a nice steadying weight so it’s going to be tough from that position. I don’t know what the statistics are for horses with those sort of weights but it’s going to be a tough challenge.”
With Paul Townend sitting alongside Ruby Walsh on the injury sidelines, Mullins turns to his nephew David for this weekend’s home action. The Grand National-winning jockey was on board Benie Des Dieux when she made it two from two over fences with an easy Carlisle success on the same day Total Recall won at Newbury.
That was a first start for almost a year since Benie Des Dieux won brilliantly at Limerick. She is as low as 12-1 in some lists for Cheltenham’s Ryanair Chase, and there will be keen anticipation of her appearance in Saturday’s listed feature at Naas.
Benie Des Dieux is dropping back to two miles, and has to concede weight to her stable companion Asthuria and the Grade Two winner Dinaria Des Obeuaux. Such is her reputation, though, it will be disappointing if she can’t win.
The former Group One winner Epicuris did not make much of an impression on his jumping debut at Christmas, and could be vulnerable to the Gowran runner-up Cartwright in a maiden hurdle at Naas.
Sunday’s €100,000 Boylesports Grand National Trial at Punchestown is the weekend feature, and four years after winning the marathon test the veteran Folsom Blue could do it again.
This is the ex-Gigginstown runner’s first start over fences for Gordon Elliott. He won the first of three hurdle races for the trainer, and although he races off a 6lbs higher mark than when successful in this in 2014, it will be fascinating to see if Elliott can conjure a revival from this dour stayer.
Elliott can also fancy his bumper chances with Getaway John, while Riders On the Storm is preferred in the listed novice hurdle.