Willie Mullins’s hat-trick put down as return to normal form

Vroum Vroum Mag answers call for prolific trainer in Champions Hurdle

Vroum Vroum Mag, with Ruby Walsh on board, clears the last fence before winning the Betdaq Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA.

Vroum Vroum Mag, with Ruby Walsh on board, clears the last fence before winning the Betdaq Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA.

 

It says much about Willie Mullins’s overarching dominance that Friday’s 29 to 1 Punchestown hat-trick got widely regarded as merely being a return to festival normality.

His half a dozen winners in the three previous days had provoked a certain “ho-hum” reaction with more focus placed on high-profile defeats for Vautour and Yorkhill and Mullins’s own admission that some of his string had cracked under the pressure of a busy spring campaign. But even with Annie Power resting and Faugheen on the injury sidelines, Vroum Vroum Mag notably answered the call in the featured Betdaq Champion Hurdle and the Mullins team go into the final festival day with nine hopefuls including another Grade One hotpot in Apple’s Jade.

Last year’s final Punchestown tally of 16 winners may be beyond even Mullins but with nine in the bag, his second best haul of 13 in 2013 may not be impossible while the dozen winners he secured in both 2009 and 2010 is in his sights.

However the remorseless nature of the Closutton machine is such that just minutes after Avant Tout defied topweight in the €100,000 novice handicap chase, his trainer was already examining the handicap impact of such a win in terms of July’s Galway Plate.

“I’d been thinking of the Plate but he won this off 145 and I’m not sure whether he’ll be too high in the ratings to get in there,” Mullins said. “There was a lot of crowding there which would help him cope with the hustle and bustle of Galway if we do go.”

Punters who backed Marlbrook down to 7 to 2 favourite knew their fate early as he was pulled up after hitting the first fence hard. It briefly looked bad for Colm Murphy’s horse but after initially appearing lame he walked back into the stable-yard apparently unscathed.

Paul Townend did the steering on Avant Tout and was also on board Koshari, another son of Douvan’s sire Walk In The Park, who made a winning Irish debut in the same novice hurdle won by Un De Sceaux three years ago.

“He was very green. I just wanted to get a run into him to see what we had. He doesn’t look too bad.” the trainer said with understatement.

Winning easily

Thomas Hobson

However it was the remarkable hunter On The Fringe who ultimately brought the house down, winning Champion Hunters Chase for a fifth time, and putting names such as Istabraq and Douvan in the shade by completing the Cheltenham-Aintree-Punchestown festival hat-trick in two successive years.

“The pressure was on but he was bouncing at home so we knew he was in great nick,” an emotional Enda Bolger said. “Nina (Carberry) and the horse have a great rapport. But it’s all down to the horse.”

The bumper turned into a desperate scrap between McManus and Michael O’Leary with No Comment eventually getting the better of the argument by half a length under Jamie Codd.

Gordon Elliott brought his tally for the week to four when Definite Ruby held off the 33 to 1 outsider Padraig’s Joy by half a length in the mares handicap chase.

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