Willie Mullins proved irresistible at Punchestown once more, to wrest the Irish Trainers' Championship from long-time foe, Gordon Elliott

Hendo sunk by Mullins Magic

A dash of Mullins Magic has transformed Total Recall, triggering astonishing improvement which brought about success in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury.

This is a race often won by a second-season chaser, and a move to the Closutton yard has certainly done the trick for the eight-year-old. One win from six last term has become two from two this, and there’s now talk of a tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

In truth, winning this race off a handicap mark of 147 is light years away from lifting the ‘Blue Riband’ in March, though there’s no doubting he was impressive on Saturday. He travelled beautifully throughout and shadowed the move made by Whisper at the third last fence. Nicky Henderson’s chaser was giving the winner a stone, and despite a couple of great leaps at the last two obstacles was overhauled, with Total Recall staying on powerfully approaching the line to win by a neck.

Mullins said of the victory: “The horse was very cool, and Paul was very cool. We all thought he was going well until the second-last and it fell apart a bit. It wasn't until the final 150 yards that I thought 'we have a life here'. It is a race that any jumps trainer wants to win. It's a fantastic race and we have just got to hold on to it this time.”

Mullins was referring to the Be My Royal victory of 2002, which ended in disqualification after the horse tested positive for a banned substance post-race.

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The trainer added: “I think a lot of the credit must go to Sandra Hughes, who used her father's (Dessie Hughes) training methods and let this horse progress very slowly. Sandra retired, we just got the benefit of it. We will look at more handicaps, but we will have to look if he is better than that. He’ll definitely get an entry in the Gold Cup. I imagine the entries will close before he runs again.”

Nicky Henderson was full of praise for the runner-up, saying: “It’s a bit cruel to get done like that. I shouldn’t have got that penalty at Kempton! Davy always had him in the right place, he jumped beautifully, and has still only had a few runs over fences.” Of targets, Henderson added: “He didn't stop, the other one went faster. We will have to sit down and think. Something like a Cotswold Chase could be fun.”

Whisper lost little in defeat (bar around £90,000) and looks the one to take from the race from a Gold Cup perspective. Still relatively inexperienced over fences, a rating in the low 160s leaves him around five or six pounds shy of what is required for the ‘big one’. He’s arguably a better horse at Aintree, though does have a couple of chase victories at Cheltenham to his name. He’ll likely meet stablemate Might Bite in March, and has yet to get the better of his fellow Seven Barrows inmate.

One that has landed the top prize in March is Coneygree. On Saturday his career took yet another turn for the worse. He appeared to be going well up until halfway, but a mistake early on the second circuit saw him back-peddling. Injuries and time on the sidelines appear to have taken their toll on the 2015 Gold Cup winner. His trainer Mark Bradstock said of the ex-champ: “Nico said he may need a wind-op, but other than that he's fine at the moment. We thought we had him on-song and jumping well, but we have to go back to the drawing board. He's been an absolute superstar and owes us nothing.”

A subplot of the Newbury feature is the continuing clash of training goliaths, Henderson and Mullins. The pair are set to lock horns throughout the winter, and especially during the high-profile Spring Festivals. Douvan versus Altior and Faugheen against Buveur D’Air are just a couple of contests that have Jump racing fans licking their lips in anticipation.

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