Willie Mullins yet to decide on Limini’s Cheltenham target
Trainer not ruling out tilt at Champion Hurdle after impressive win at Punchestown
Ruby Walsh and Limini won the Quevega Mares Hurdle at Punchestown. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Willie Mullins left the door slightly ajar for Limini to run in the Champion Hurdle at next month’s Cheltenham Festival following an impressive comeback victory at Punchestown.
Winner of the inaugural Trull House Stud Mares Novices’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park last March, the six-year-old appeared to have plenty on her plate for her belated seasonal reappearance, with former stablemate Apple’s Jade setting the standard, having beaten Vroum Vroum Mag in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse.
The Gordon Elliott-trained Apple’s Jade was the 2-5 favourite under Bryan Cooper and travelled well at the head of affairs for much of the Quevega Mares Hurdle.
However, Ruby Walsh edged 3-1 chance Limini closer from the home turn and she showed the superior turn of foot from the final flight to prevail by two lengths.
Mullins said: “I don’t know what way to take that run, but Apple’s Jade is a triple Grade One-winning mare and Ruby never even stirred on our mare – he just gave her a shake-up going to the last.
“Unless there’s something really wrong with Apple’s Jade, it looks a tremendous performance.
“Our mare was coming back after a year off and we’ve had our troubles trying to get her right.
“Apple’s Jade had had three runs. The race conditions didn’t suit us and the ground didn’t suit us, so we came here thinking it was all in Apple’s Jade’s favour.
“She (Limini) has run a stone better than I thought she would.”
Limini was promoted to around 7-4 favouritism for the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, ahead of last year’s winner Vroum Vroum Mag and Apple’s Jade.
However, Annie Power was supplemented for, and won, the Champion Hurdle after winning the same Punchestown contest 12 months ago.
As is his wont, Mullins was ruling nothing in or out.
He said: “Nothing is ever set in stone – this is me you’re talking to!
“We were aiming for the Mares’ Hurdle, this might open up other options.
“I was going to run the two of them [Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag] in the Mares’ Hurdle, but I didn’t know whether Limini was going to come back to form or not.
“It looks like she’s come back in better form.”
Asked whether Limini could be supplemented for the Champion Hurdle, for which she is a general 8-1 shot, the trainer added: “I don’t know. On the face of it, it looked a huge performance.
“Vroum Vroum Mag is in everything. She did her first bit of work since she ran in Doncaster on Tuesday and I was pleased enough with that.
“Her Doncaster win wouldn’t be good enough to go anywhere, but she’s coming back to herself.”
Elliott got one over on title rival Mullins in the INH Stallion Owners EBF Maiden Hurdle, with 5-1 shot Mossback narrowly getting the better of 8-11 favourite Castello Sforza.
Elliott said: “He’s a three-mile chaser down the road and loves soft ground. He won a bit snug in the end.
“We’ll have a look to see how the ground turns up at Fairyhouse. He could go for a novice handicap.”
Of Apple’s Jade, the Cullentra handler added: “She was a bit gassy early but when she went through the line he (Cooper) still couldn’t pull her up.
“Two lengths is just a good jump in one of those big races but there were no excuses.
“The plan is still the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. A bit better ground and a stronger gallop would suit her better.”
The Green Lady (10-1) could make a swift reappearance after she impressed in the Festival Any Day Flexi Ticket Mares Maiden Hurdle under Danny Mullins.
Winning trainer Pat Fahy said: “She is in a mares’ handicap on Saturday at Fairyhouse.
“You hate doing it [running back quickly] but if she comes out of this well we will have to give it some thought.”
Perfect Man (9-2) won the Festival Hospitality From 109 Handicap Hurdle before Joseph O’Brien and Patrick Mullins combined to land the bumper with impressive newcomer Early Doors (7-2).