Un De Sceaux brilliantly graduates to Grade 1 class at Leopardstown

Mullins’ charge now hot favourite for Arkle Chase at Cheltenham

There are six weeks to Cheltenham but Un De Sceaux already looks like starting the hottest favourite of the festival after a scintillating first career Grade One success which now has Willie Mullins's star an odds-on shot for Arkle glory.

Previously an enigmatic tearaway front-runner with apparently limitless potential, Un De Sceaux emerged from the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase showing even more potential but also a proven top-flight performer.

Both Clarcam and Gilgamboa came into the race with festival dreams of their own but neither could shake up the 8/11 favourite who typically made and left his opposition gasping 15 lengths behind him while apparently still full of running.

Pre-festival hype It was as exciting a novice performance as has been seen around the Dublin track in some time and Mullins didn’t bother to dilute the certain pre-festival hype around Un De Sceaux by declaring the ex-French recruit can get even better by Cheltenham.


“I was concerned about the ground today, but if anything he was better on it. He isn’t down to his best racing weight yet. Hopefully on better ground he’ll jump better again and faster,” he said.

Mullins wasn't alone in his thoughts. Barely had Un De Sceaux gone past the post when shrewd Ladbrokes spokesman Mike Dillon had slashed him to 4/6 for the Arkle. Considering Sprinter Sacre started 8/11 for his 2012 Arkle success, it's a remarkable price but Dillon said: "Not only has he been very impressive but he has skittled the two horses that were behind him in the Cheltenham betting."

This was so dominant a performance that straight-faced Sprinter Sacre comparisons were being made afterwards although Clarcam’s owner Michael O’Leary had a typically individual interpretation of what had happened, telling Mullins: “You gave us 10lbs – and humiliation!”

The Ryanair boss had three of seven runners in the Grade Two Nathaniel Lacy Novices Hurdle, including 11/8 favourite, No More Heroes, but it was the Mullins-trained 5/1 shot Outlander who emerged a clear winner, reversing Limerick Christmas form with the runner-up Martello Tower.

Picked wrong

Bryan Cooper

picked wrong in the Grade Two but secured some compensation in one of the handicap chases on the topweight Bishops Road, foiling Walsh’s hopes of a hat-trick on Heathfield. Walsh did object to the winner as Cooper’s whip struck the runner up in the close finish but the stewards couldn’t be satisfied Bishops Road improved his position and overruled it.

The other handicap Chase was comparative small-fry for most of the crowd but Paddy O Dee's win was a memorable one for jockey Mark Enright and trainer Philip Rothwell.

It was a first winner for Enright since publicly stating he has faced a battle with depression while Rothwell’s fortunes had been in a slump since his last winner in April of 2014, leaving the trainer to concede: “I’ve had a hellish season with an awful lot of placed horses.”

Enright added: “My battle with depression has been well documented... Hopefully it can help anyone else struggling.”

JP McManus and Michael O’Leary dead-heated in the opening maiden hurdle with McManus’s Gladiator King forcing the decision in the final stride against the 12/1 Prince Of Scars.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column