Willie Mullins looking to bridge 30-year gap with Simenon in Japan Cup

Briar Hill makes his much-anticipated jumping debut in opening Wexford maiden hurdle

Trainer Willie Mullins

Trainer Willie Mullins


30 years since Ireland’s Stanerra memorably landed the Japan Cup and Simenon is on course to become just the eighth Irish-trained horse ever to run in the great race in Tokyo this Sunday.

After his honourable fourth in the Melbourne Cup at the start of the month, Simenon arrived in Tokyo from Australia six days ago as part of a three-pronged European raid on the €4.1 million highlight that also includes Dunaden and Joshua Tree.

Richard Hughes is scheduled to again take the ride on the Willie Mullins-trained star who warmed up for the Melbourne Cup with a run over a mile and a half at Caulfield last month in which he finished third.

That had been his first attempt at the trip in almost three years and he faces a major task against a strong home team that could include the highly rated Gold Ship.

Irish representation in the Japan Cup since Stanerra won in 1983 has been periodic and none of the half dozen – Neman (1985), Cockney Lass (1987), Oscar Schindler (1997), Irresistible Jewel (2002), Powerscourt (2004) and Joshua Tree (2010) – made the placings.

Mullins’s range of targets this weekend could also take in Saturday’s Betfair Chase at Haydock after Prince Du Beauchene was one of 10 entries left in the race at yesterday’s forfeit stage.

The other Irish entry is Gordon Elliott’s Roi Du Mee, winner of the Grade One Champion Chase at Down Royal, a race in which Prince Du Beauchene finished third.

Wexford bound
Whether it is Tokyo, Haydock or Wexford, the dominance exerted by Willie Mullins can often mean an infusion of quality and that is certainly the case at today’s home fixture where Briar Hill makes his much-anticipated jumping debut in the opening maiden hurdle.

The spectacular winner of last season’s Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, Briar Hill faces 10 opponents whose connections could hardly have foreseen having to face a Grade One winning star in a midweek maiden at Wexford.

Briar Hill was an unconsidered 25/1 shot at the festival after winning a January bumper at 1/5 but he proved a revelation, shooting seven lengths clear.

He looks sure to make his presence felt on the novice hurdle scene this season too, in all likelihood starting today.

Fresh from his seven winners on Sunday, Mullins can double up in the mares novice hurdle with the Galway winner Royal Moll while Speckled Wood should prove hard to beat in the mares chase if enjoying better fortune than last time when she was badly hampered and lost her rider at the fourth last.