In Excess forces his way into Festival frame

In Excess may have earned himself a place on Willie Mullins’ formidable Cheltenham Festival squad after starring in a treble for the champion trainer at Fairyhouse on Wednesday.

The French-bred gelding was the 4-9 favourite for the Easter Festival Early Bird Maiden Hurdle, having previously finished second in a French bumper and on his Irish debut at Limerick last month.

Those who took the cramped odds will have had few concerns, with In Excess readily pulling 11 lengths clear in the hands of Sean O’Keeffe – deputising for Paul Townend, who sat out the card due to illness.

“He was keen enough during the race, but I was very happy with the way he quickened after the second-last as I thought he’d done a lot of work at that stage,” said Mullins.

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“To win 11 lengths from where he was at the second-last, I thought it was a good performance on very testing ground.

“He’s a horse that could move up to graded class. I don’t know where we’ll go next, I’d like to find a winners-of-one or a Listed race maybe.

“I’d be hoping he’ll improve going into the spring time and he’ll probably go for one of the novice hurdles in Cheltenham I’d say, maybe the Ballymore.”

The trainer’s nephew Danny Mullins stood in for Townend aboard the other yard’s other two winners – Chavez (9-4) in the Fairyhouse For Your Fundraiser Beginners Chase and Hauturiere (11-10) in the HAY ‘How Are Ya’ Campaign Mares Maiden Hurdle.

Hauturiere after winning under Danny Mullins
Hauturiere after winning under Danny Mullins (Gary Carson/PA)

Of the latter, Mullins added: “I was a little bit concerned at the third last as the signals coming from Danny didn’t look great, but she was in behind a few horses and once he got clear and took her wide, she just took off and I was very happy how she finished.

“I’ve always thought a nice bit of her but was just disappointed we hadn’t got her head in front. Today she got her head in front on very testing ground and she’ll probably stay much further.

“I don’t know if she’s good enough, but she’ll probably get an entry in the Grade One here at Easter and she has a lot of experience to go to the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle in Cheltenham.”

Three Card Brag impressed for Gordon Elliott and Adrian Heskin
Three Card Brag impressed for Gordon Elliott and Adrian Heskin (Gary Carson/PA)

Another Fairyhouse winner with Cheltenham aspirations is Gordon Elliott’s Three Card Brag.

With Adrian Heskin aboard, the 8-11 favourite proved 12 lengths too strong for the Mullins-trained Spanish Harlem and was cut to 10-1 from 12-1 for the Albert Bartlett by Paddy Power.

Elliott’s assistant, Ian Amond, said: “Adrian said going out that he’d probably make the running on him because he wants further down the line.

“He’s a nice horse and he stays at it well. It probably wasn’t ideal having to make the running because he’s lazy, but Adrian said he picked up and the further he went, the better he was.”

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