Willie Mullins lands 63/1 St Stephen’s Day ‘six-timer’
Thistlecrack odds on for Cheltenham Gold Cup after King George rout at Kempton
Ruby Walsh and trainer Willie Mullins make a happy pair after victory in the Racing Post Novice Chase during day one of the Christmas Festival at Leopardstown Racecourse. Photograph: PA Wire.
If Thistlecrack confirmed himself a stellar new talent over fences with a superb King George VI Chase victory at Kempton, it was a familiar St Stephen’s Day story in Ireland as Willie Mullins saddled a 63/1 ‘six-timer’ and smashed through the 100-winner mark for the season.
Min was the centrepiece of a 12/1 Leopardstown hat-trick for the champion trainer who had three other winners at Limerick on the busiest day of the racing year. The last of them, Miss Sapphire, brought Mullins’s tally for this season to 101.
Mullins’s rival, Gordon Elliott, had to settle for two winners at Down Royal and although he still holds a significant prizemoney lead in the trainer’s championship, day one of the Christmas festival action indicated the power of jump racing’s dominant stable over the last decade.
In front of a 14,651 St Stephen’s Day Leopardstown crowd – up almost 3,000 on last year – the old firm of Mullins and Ruby Walsh wasted no time with Bunk Off Early landing the opener, quickly followed by another favourite, Bapaume, landing the Grade Two Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle.
However, it was Min who ran out a very impressive winner of the Grade One Racing Post Novice Chase, putting himself in prime position to contend for Cheltenham’s Arkle Trophy in March, and even drawing comparisons from Walsh with the great Kauto Star.
“He’s an easier horse to ride over fences. He has a look where he’s going over fences and he’s a bit more manageable. I was happy with him in Navan but he impressed me today. He reminds me of Kauto,” the champion jockey said.
Min eventually won by nine lengths from Ordinary World and is as short as 3/1 for Cheltenham’s Arkle. His market rival on Monday, Identity Thief, was pulled up lame after five fences.
Bapaume is an 8/1 shot for the Triumph Hurdle after he reversed Fairyhouse form with Landofhopeandglory. Walsh secured a run up the inside of Landofhopeandglory’s stable companion Zig Zag after the second last flight and wasn’t headed on the 13/8 favourite.
“We thought he’d improved a little bit for his first run for us at Fairyhouse. I rode my own race and he’s a tough horse. He stays well and is improving. Who knows how much more he can improve,” Walsh reported.
Paul Townsend did the steering on both Bellshill and Bravissimo who won at Limerick, while Patrick Mullins did the honours on Miss Sapphire in the bumper. Bellshill is as short as 6/1 for the RSA at Cheltenham after impressively landing the Grade Two Shannon Airport Novice Chase.
In terms of novices, seniors, or any other kind of performer, there was no disputing Thistlecrack’s right to Christmas centre-stage.
The 11/10 favourite was making just his fourth start over fences but remains unbeaten after beating his stable companion Cue Card in overwhelming style. The Colin Tizzard-trained star is an odds-on favourite to land the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
“I thought he’d win but I never imagined he’d do it easy as that. He’s a phenomenal racehorse,” said Thistlecrack’s jockey Tom Scudamore. “Between myself, my father [Peter] and grandfather [Michael] we’ve had about 33,000 winners – and he’s the best of the lot!”
Scudamore could be forgiven a vague tot on familial winners since Thistlecrack looks a singular winner by any standards.
Cue Card’s rider Paddy Brennan ruefully reflected: “Some things are impossible and trying to beat that horse today was one of the most impossible things I’ve ever tried to do. You can make all the excuses in the world, but it’s a long time since I’ve ridden against a horse like that.”
Leopardstown’s crowd increase helped boost betting figures with bookmakers turning over €645,746, up from last year’s €543,746. The Tote was also up, from last year’s €480,665 to €542,279.
The feature at the Dublin track on Tuesday is the €190,000 Paddy Power Chase, due off at 3.00.