Bookies claim score draw at half-time in Festival

Honours between backers and bookmakers remain level-pegging at the halfway point of the Cheltenham Festival.

After Appreciate It and Shishkin on day one, it was another dream start for punters with Bob Olinger (6-4) and Monkfish (1-4) rewarding favourite-backers, although the latter not totally in the manner expected, in what was a messy race.

Betfair went 9-2 about next year’s Gold Cup for Monkfish, with Coral a slightly more conservative 6-1.

All smiles for Rachael Blackmore, and the punters, after favourite Bob Olinger took the opening Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
All smiles for Rachael Blackmore, and the punters, after favourite Bob Olinger took the opening Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Michael Steele/PA)

In a mirror image of Tuesday, race three threw up a big-priced winner – this time Heaven Help Us at 33-1 in the Coral Cup – but in a twist from the opening afternoon, the feature Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase was also a great result for the layers.

Chacun Pour Soi had been all the rage as the 8-13 market leader, but he did not get up the hill as last year’s Arkle heroine Put The Kettle On (17-2) continued Henry de Bromhead’s spectacular week.

In contrast to previous years Tiger Roll (9-2) had bookmakers smiling in winning the cross-country chase, at the expense of Easysland, while 14-1 shot Sky Pirate was another good result for the layers in the Grand Annual.

The card finished with the Champion Bumper – and although it was a Willie Mullins-trained one-two, Sir Gerhard at 85-40 got the better of the odds-on Kilcruit.

Coral’s David Stevens said: “It felt like Groundhog Day when well-backed favourites Bob Olinger and Monkfish replicated what Appreciate It and Shishkin had done on Tuesday – and then as in the Ultima on day one, we got a great result in the Coral Cup.

“But then unlike Tuesday, the hot favourite for the day’s feature race, Chacun Pour Soi, could not do what Honeysuckle had done – and after Put The Kettle On’s Champion Champion Chase victory had dented plenty of multiples, even the Tiger rolling back the years in the cross-country was not too painful, and our fightback was completed when Sky Pirate landed the Grand Annual.”

Chad Yeaomans, for Betway, said: “Although the first two races for novices were very punter friendly, the handicaps were kind to us – and we end the day in front.

“The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase was a thriller of a contest that was full of drama, and the favourite getting beaten was a good result across the board. Chacun Pour Soi would have been the biggest single loser of the day, especially because we’d ‘superboosted’ him to 6-4 this morning, so getting him beaten was imperative.

“Sir Gerhard has been well-backed all winter, so he gave punters something to smile about when winning the bumper. I get the feeling he could be there in 12 months’ time after winning the Supreme!”

Paddy Power spokesman Paul Binfield said: “For the second day running, a couple of short ones had us fearing the worst, but fortunately for the bookies Put The Kettle On emulated Black Tears yesterday by chinning a hotpot and averting any potential multiple mayhem.

“Chacun Pour Soi, as well as Kilcruit in the bumper getting beat, meant a fair day for us – and the layers are ahead. But in Euro 2021 year, it’s only half-time, and it’s a game of two halves.”

Envoi Allen will be a key player on Thursday for one Betfair customer
Envoi Allen will be a key player on Thursday for one Betfair customer (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Ladbrokes’ Jon Lees said: “It’s very much racing’s loss that Tiger Roll won’t be trying to land a third Grand National at Aintree this year, after he routed his rivals to win at the Cheltenham Festival for the fifth time. Who knows? Maybe next year.

“For once Tiger Roll was on the bookmakers’ side in dismissing the hot favourite Easysland in the cross-country. With Chacun Pour Soi and Kilcruit beaten at odds-on as well, we emerged from St Patrick’s Day narrowly in front, which was looking unlikely when Bob Olinger and Monkfish took the first two races.”

Looking to the third day, one Betfair punter stands to win £511,225 for a £5 accumulator bet should his last selection and hot favourite, Envoi Allen, win the opening Marsh Novices’ Chase.

Betfair spokesman Barry Orr said: “The customer is sitting on over half-a-million pound payout for just a £5 bet and told me he won’t be able to sleep tonight. I’d say that’s a massive understatement.

“He could take the cash out offer of £275,000 and sit back safe in the knowledge that regardless of what happens in the race he is £275,000 better off, or he can reject the offer and hope that Envoi Allen beats his seven opponents and also safely negotiates the 16 fences to land his incredible bet.

“Envoi Allen is 4-9 favourite, so he may well stick and let the bet run.”

Mixed bag of results sees punting battle about even

A topsy-turvy opening day of the Cheltenham Festival saw bookmakers endure mixed fortunes, though it could have been worse.

The situation looked bleak for the layers after favourites took three of the first four races to give backers a dream start.

Appreciate It (8-11) got punters off the mark in style with a facile victory in the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle for trainer Willie Mullins.

It was a similar story with the Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin (4-9), who had no trouble landing the odds in the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy.

Appreciate It was dominant in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Appreciate It was dominant in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Bookmakers pulled one back when Vintage Clouds (28-1) beat the 100-30 favourite Happygolucky in the Ultima Handicap Chase – but Honeysuckle (11-10) had punters on top again after the Unibet Champion Hurdle.

The layers were saved further punishment when 11-1 shot Black Tears got up in the shadow of the post to deny 10-11 market leader Concertista in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.

That proved a turning point, with Jeff Kidder’s success at 80-1 at the expense of 9-2 favourite Saint Sam in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle giving bookmakers another huge result.

Even though Galvin was only a 7-2 winner of the concluding Sam Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase, he was the least supported of the three market leaders.

Black Tears (left) foiled the well-backed Concertista
Black Tears (left) foiled the well-backed Concertista (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“The last gasp win of Black Tears ensured bookmakers avoided one of the most costly Cheltenham Festival opening days in recent years, although earlier victories for well-backed favourites Appreciate It, Shishkin and Honeysuckle meant punters still had plenty to cheer about,” said Coral’s David Stevens.

“We saw very early on Tuesday morning which horses were proving most popular on the opening day of this very different Festival, with the five best-backed runners being Appreciate It, Shishkin, Happygolucky, Honeysuckle and Concertista, so it was looking ominous after the first two had obliged with the minimum of fuss.

“Overall we’ve ended day one with a sense of relief, as it could have been a whole lot more costly, although plenty of punters will start day two playing with our money.

It was a poor start to the four-day meeting for William Hill.

“The bookies had one of their worst first days of the Cheltenham Festival after three short-priced winners delivered for punters,” said their spokesman Rupert Adams.

“It could have been a lot worse if Concertista had won the Mares’ Hurdle.

Shishkin oozed class in the Arkle
Shishkin oozed class in the Arkle (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“Our day started badly with Appreciate it, got worse with Shishkin and became disastrous when Honeysuckle delivered.”

Ladbrokes feared the worst halfway through the card until the big-priced winners came to their rescue.

Their spokesman Jon Lees said: “Given their short odds we were already bracing ourselves for a scenario in which the three best-backed horses of the day, Appreciate It, Shishkin and Honeysuckle, could hurt us if they obliged.

“The punishment could have been even worse if Happygolucky and Concertista scored as well, but thankfully Vintage Clouds brought some relief and we were shedding tears of joy when Black Tears got up in the final strides to grab the Mares’ Hurdle off Concertista.”

Betway had the better of the exchanges despite early results going punters’ way.

Their PR manager Chad Yeomans said: “Bookmakers one, punters nil after day one of the Cheltenham Festival!

“I have to say, I wasn’t so confident after the first two races with both Appreciate It and Shishkin bolting up, and had Happygolucky and Concertista both won, we would have been in a totally different state. Thankfully, with both of them being foiled, we’ve come out on top.

Jeff Kidder (right) was an 80-1 stunner
Jeff Kidder (right) was an 80-1 stunner (Michael Steele/PA)

“The Paul Nicholls pair of Houx Gris and Next Destination – who were both the best-backed in the last two races – were our biggest losers, so with those also being beaten, the trading room floor is full of cheer.”

Paddy Power also reported a narrow lead for bookmakers.

“Having seen hotpots Appreciate It, Shishkin and Honeysuckle all justify favouritism, let me assure you there weren’t any black tears inside our trading room when the leading lady of the same name collared odds-on favourite Concertista in the Mares’ Hurdle,” said spokesman Paul Binfield.

“That was an important head, saving the industry a multi-million pay-out and despite Galvin not being a brilliant result in the lucky last, a couple of big-priced winners, including an incredible 80-1 poke, have helped us into a slight lead going into the second day.”

Honeysuckle and Blackmore make it an opening day at Cheltenham to savour

Honeysuckle extended her flawless record to 11 runs and 11 wins as she cruised to an unchallenged six-and-a-half-length victory in the Unibet Champion Hurdle.

Remaining on the outside of the field for most of the race, Rachael Blackmore – the first female to ride the winner of the great race – asked the mare to take the lead two flights from home and they easily powered past their rivals and up the hill to make Festival history.

The 11-10 win was one of a handful of victories for favourites on day one of the Festival, with Willie Mullins’ 8-11 shot Appreciate It opening the meeting with a facile 24-length victory in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin then justified his price of 4-9 when comfortably taking the Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase with 12 lengths to spare.

There were some surprises, however, with Sue Smith’s Vintage Clouds bagging the Ultima Handicap Chase at 28-1 on his fifth attempt, and Noel Meade’s Jeff Kidder landing the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at massive odds of 80-1.

Picture of the day

Paul Townend smiles and celebrates after Appreciate It's demolition job in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Paul Townend smiles and celebrates after Appreciate It’s demolition job in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Tim Goode/PA)

Quote of the day

“Rachael is a brilliant rider on any horse and Honeysuckle is just a brilliant horse. The combination is deadly – it’s the perfect storm”  – Henry de Bromhead on Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle after their Champion Hurdle success.

Performance of the day

Nico de Boinville and Shishkin clear the last to win the Arkle
Nico de Boinville and Shishkin clear the last to win the Arkle (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Despite the much-anticipated clash with Energumene never materialising, Shishkin still managed to demonstrate his superiority in the division with a dominant success in the Arkle. The seven-year-old jumped immaculately from the off and was hardly stretched in maintaining his flawless record over fences, with his nearest rival, Colin Tizzard’s Eldorado Allen, 12 lengths behind.

Ride of the day

Rachael Blackmore celebrates after winning the Champion Hurdle
Rachael Blackmore celebrates after winning the Champion Hurdle (David Davies/PA)

Tasked with protecting Honeysuckle’s unbeatable reputation, Rachael Blackmore did not flinch under the pressure of piloting the 11-10 favourite and remained completely in control as she kept the mare on an untroubled path throughout the race. Asking her mount to soar clear of the other runners at precisely the right moment, Blackmore never gave Honeysuckle fans a flicker of a doubt as the pair made an 11th successive win look easy.

What’s next?

Paul Townend and Chacun Pour Soi are a formidable partnership
Paul Townend and Chacun Pour Soi are a formidable partnership (PA)

Wednesday’s action is headlined by the Queen Mother Champion Chase, with Chacun Pour Soi leading the field for the two-mile Grade One contest. He is set to take on reigning champion Politologue, with Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra and Kim Bailey’s First Flow others in the mix. Also on the card is the cross-country chase, where two-time winner Tiger Roll will attempt to retain his title after losing it to French raider Easysland last season. The concluding race is the Champion Bumper, where Willie Mullins saddles the undefeated Sir Gerhard and the highly-regarded Kilcruit.

Appreciate It rules Supreme for Mullins and Townend

Appreciate It lived up to his pre-race billing as he powered to victory in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The 8-11 favourite, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Paul Townend, outclassed his seven rivals with a dominant display in the Festival curtain-raiser.

It was the start the Irish hoped for with Appreciate It coming home 24 lengths clear of the opposition to give Mullins a seventh success in the race.

As expected, For Pleasure set the pace, but Appreciate It was always nicely in his slipstream. Townend made his move at the third-last, with the seven-year-old taking over from the penultimate obstacle.

From then on, Appreciate It pulled easily clear. His stablemate Blue Lord was his nearest pursuer when he came down at the last. That left Henry de Bromhead’s Ballyadam to claim second place, having made a mistake when hitting the second-last flight.

For Pleasure stuck to his task admirably to claim third place, two and a quarter lengths further away.

Mullins said: “It’s a great start to the meeting. I couldn’t believe that he won so easy.

“Things were looking a bit tough rounding the last bend in Leopardstown (last month) and we were wondering whether he’d left his best performance of the year there (at Christmas), so we just brought home and freshened him up and it seems to have worked.

“The way he finished the race today he looks as good as any of our previous winners of the race – it was a Vautour-like performance.”

On future plans, he added: “At the start of the season I had him down as a Ballymore horse or an Albert Bartlett horse if that failed, so here I am after winning three Grade Ones over two miles with him – I’m probably the last person to ask where we’ll be going next season!

“I thought he could possibly be an Arkle horse. I never envisaged him as a Champion Hurdle horse and I think we’ll just leave that (decision) until after we go to Punchestown.

“I’ve always had chasing in mind for him, but then I always had chasing in mind for Faugheen, so we’re back to the same argument.

“I’ll have a word with Michael Masterson (owner) and the team at home.”

Runners in the Supreme make their way down the home straight towards the empty grandstands
Runners in the Supreme make their way down the home straight towards the empty grandstands (Michael Steele/PA)

Townend said: “He was very impressive there. Conditions came in his favour and it was a huge performance.

“He’s a simple horse to ride and it’s ideal to have a horse like that to ride in the first race of the week.

“We knew from the bumper here last year that he was very good. He’d been beating the Irish novices at home, so I was quietly confident.

“We know he stays and I suppose the way he jumps makes him look like a quicker horse than he is.”

Appreciate It seeks to make Mullins Supreme again

Willie Mullins will once again be the toast of punters if Appreciate It can add to the yard’s record six victories in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

It is 26 years since Tourist Attraction provided the most successful trainer in Festival history with his very first victory at the showpiece meeting in the traditional curtain-raiser.

Ebaziyan was a shock winner for the master of Closutton in 2007, but Champagne Fever (2013), Vautour (2014), Douvan (2015) and Klassical Dream (2019) have all been well fancied and come up with the goods since.

Appreciate It, runner-up to stablemate Ferny Hollow in the Champion Bumper 12 months ago, is the latest product of the Mullins machine to bid for Supreme glory.

The champion trainer admits he expected to be running the seven-year-old in one of the longer Cheltenham novice hurdles at the start of the campaign, but he has more then earned his place in the two-mile opener with successive Grade Ones over that trip at Leopardstown.

Mullins said: “I had him down as a stayer, so the fact that he has that turn of foot is good too.

“What he did at Christmas was terrific, and I’m wondering whether he was as good in himself at the Dublin Racing Festival last month, or was it a better race?

“He did what he had to when he had to, and we all thought he was in trouble turning for home, but when Ballyadam came to him he got the job done – which was the sign of a good horse – and he’s been in great form since.”

Appreciate It on the gallops at Cheltenham
Appreciate It on the gallops at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

Mullins also saddles Blue Lord, who finished six lengths behind his stablemate when third in last month’s Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle – while the runner-up Ballyadam is in opposition again, having moved from Gordon Elliott’s yard to Henry de Bromhead.

The chief hope for the home team is Harry’s Fry’s Metier, who is unbeaten in three starts and could hardly have been more impressive when trouncing his rivals by 12 lengths in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown on his latest appearance.

“There’s only eight runners, but all the main contenders are there,” said Fry.

“We’re all systems go at our end. We’re really pleased with him at home – he’s fresh and well and goes there all guns blazing.

“He’s been very progressive. He’ll need to progress again, but there’s no reason why he can’t.

Harry Fry has high hopes for Metier
Harry Fry has high hopes for Metier (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“This will be the best ground he’s run on over hurdles, but he’s got Flat form on better ground, so I’m not overly concerned.

“He’ll either be good enough or he won’t – and I don’t think the ground will be an excuse, hopefully.”

Jonjo O’Neill’s Soaring Glory brings top-class handicap form to the table after landing last month’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.

De Bromhead’s second string Irascible, the Alex Hales-trained For Pleasure and Grumpy Charley from Chris Honour’s yard complete the field.

Appreciate It dominates Supreme Novices’ declarations

Appreciate It will face just seven rivals in his bid to get favourite-backers off to the perfect start at this year’s Cheltenham Festival with victory in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Runner-up to his stablemate Ferny Hollow in the Champion Bumper 12 months ago, the seven-year-old is all the rage to go one better on his return to the Cotswolds and provide trainer Willie Mullins with a seventh success in the traditional curtain-raiser.

Appreciate It is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles this season, including back-to-back Grade One wins at Leopardstown.

Mullins also saddles Blue Lord, who finished six lengths behind his stablemate when third at last month’s Dublin Racing Festival, while the runner-up Ballyadam is also in opposition again, having moved from Gordon Elliott’s yard to Henry de Bromhead.

Metier has leading claims
Metier has leading claims (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The chief hope for the home team is Harry’s Fry’s unbeaten Tolworth Hurdle winner Metier, closely followed by Jonjo O’Neill’s Betfair Hurdle victor Soaring Glory.

De Bromhead’s second-string Irascible, the Alex Hales-trained For Pleasure and Grumpy Charley from Chris Honour’s yard complete the octet.

Shishkin is the undoubted star attraction in a six-strong line-up for the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy.

Last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle has not put a foot wrong over fences thus far and will be long odds-on to claim a second Festival win for Nicky Henderson.

Dan Skelton’s Allmankind can be expected to set a strong gallop, while Mullins will rely on Franco De Port following the enforced withdrawal of Energumene earlier this week due to injury.

Captain Guinness (De Bromhead), Eldorado Allen (Colin Tizzard) and Numitor (Heather Main) also feature.

Cepage heads a field of 16 declared for the Ultima Handicap Chase, with leading fancies Happygolucky and the ultra-consistent Aye Right both in the mix.

Mullins has dominated the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle over the years and once again houses the hot favourite in Concertista, with the Skelton-trained Roksana seemingly the biggest threat among her 10 opponents.

Concertista on the gallops at Cheltenham
Concertista on the gallops at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

A maximum field of 22 will go to post for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, including the Mullins-trained Saint Sam, Joseph O’Brien’s Busselton and Paul Nicholls’ Houx Gris.

The concluding Sam Vestey National Hunt Chase has been rendered far more competitive following news likely favourite Royal Pagaille is instead set to bid for glory in Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

In his absence, Galvin will head the market ahead of the likes of Escaria Ten (Denise Foster), Next Destination (Nicholls) and Remastered (David Pipe).

Monday Musings: Willie Mullings and A Plot Awry

The Dublin Racing Festival, two days of the best jump racing in Ireland and perfectly placed five weeks before Cheltenham to offer definitive clues about the likely destination of many of its major prizes, did its job this weekend, writes Tony Stafford.

It also made the more than considerable likelihood that Willie Mullins will see off Gordon Elliott as champion trainer once again in their homeland into a formality. Fifteen races, mostly Graded and bolstered by some very valuable and fiercely contested handicaps, were framed. Mullins won nine of them, four of seven on Saturday and five from eight yesterday.

Elliott won one, in his juvenile hurdle niche where he still has the stranglehold on Triumph Hurdle calculations after Mullins decided that he needed to give French Aseel a little more time to settle into the stable routine. Ruby Walsh, the most brilliant race reader (Flat and jumps to be fair) I’ve yet to encounter on television let us in on that secret when discussing the Elliott winner Quilixios, who has supplanted French Aseel as second favourite at 6-1 behind his unbeaten stable-companion Zanahiyr, a 5-2 chance.

But elsewhere at least three Mullins Cheltenham candidates cemented their claims on major prizes next month. Last year’s Albert Bartlett Hurdle winner, Monkfish, maintained his unblemished record over fences in the 2m 5.5f novice and is now an 11/10 shot for the Festival (RSA as was) Novices’ Chase over 3m1f. If you think he’ll go instead in the shorter Marsh Chase you can have 7/1. Don’t take it because he won’t!

Saturday’s bumper winner, Kilcruit, bred by Willie Mullins’ mother, is now the 6-4 favourite for the Festival Bumper after a 12-length romp under the breeder’s grandson Patrick in Saturday’s Grade 2 event. The only problem with taking that 6-4 is that there are sure to be other Mullins runners in the race; but they will need to be good to beat this one.

Incidentally, when he made his debut at Clonmel last season, Kilcruit was actually beaten, and at the time was trained by Willie’s brother and the rider’s uncle Tony, who had such a spectacular summer with the staying German-bred mare Princess Zoe, winner of the Group 1 Prix Du Cadran at Longchamp last autumn.

Kilcruit turned up in Willie’s string for his seasonal debut at Navan in December where he won by almost ten lengths and, up in grade, had even more real estate and a good deal of extra goodwill to spare over Saturday’s rivals.

A third certain Festival favourite will be yesterday’s easy novice hurdle winner, Appreciate It, now only 7/4 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. All three of these will have been heavily linked in multiple bets but the bookmakers are far less likely to be wrong-footed by these as they clearly were over the weekend by a very well-planned and almost as well-executed three-horse bet that could easily have repercussions for the far-sighted originators, or unscrupulous conspirators, according to where you stand.

Late on Saturday night, bookmakers, among whom Bet Victor have come forward to declare their hand, were assailed online by punters all wanting to back three horses, I would imagine in singles and linked multiples.

In Saturday night’s early betting they were all outsiders with only one – the middle leg, Blowing Dixie, at Southwell – having any realistic credentials according to yesterday’s Racing Post analyses.

Anyway, the three horses were firstly Fire Away, a 20/1 chance in the newspaper’s betting but double that the night before. In his last runs in Ireland he had been 7th of 15, beaten 38 lengths at 20/1; 14th of 25, beaten 25 lengths at 66/1; 8th of 11, beaten 26 lengths at 16/1; 6th of 8, beaten 39 lengths at 8/1; and PU of 16 at 8/1.

Those runs in Ireland took place between November 19th 2019 and March 2nd 2020. Transferred to Daragh Bourke’s Scottish stable he had three runs in late summer. They were 10th of 15, beaten 51 lengths at 50/1; 7th of 10, beaten 61 lengths at 20/1; and, last time out on September 16th, he started 50/1 and pulled up in a field of 11. Over the period his rating had fallen from an initial mark of 116 to 98.

Yesterday he was making his debut for a new stable, having joined Laura Morgan’s team near Melton Mowbray from Bourke only 11 days before the race. “He had two horses for sale and I originally had a different one in mind but chose him. I’m delighted I did,” she told Racing TV, understandably as he won the race unchallenged by 18 lengths at even money!

Leg two, Blowing Dixie, had won four races at Southwell, all of them over a mile and a half when trained by Jane Chapple-Hyam but, even so, for an 80-rated four-year-old Fibresand specialist to realise as much as £50k at last year’s July Sales at Newmarket might seem rather surprising.

Fetch it he did and, switched to the ultra-shrewd Iain Jardine, Blowing Dixie began a busy autumn schedule running six times between early September and late November. His card reads 7th of 7, beaten 25 lengths at 80/1; 8th of 9, beaten 22 lengths at 66/1; 7th of 8, beaten 28 lengths at 10/1; 10th of 13, beaten 21 lengths at 66/1; 5th of 6, beaten 16 lengths at 66/1; and finally 8th of 9, beaten 25 lengths at 17/2.

Starting for Jardine on a mark of 80, by yesterday he was down 15lb to 65. A 12/1 shot in the Racing Post, he started 4/6 and won by an easy two and a half lengths. His most obvious market rival, Drew Breeze, winner of two of his previous three races, started slowly and was never nearer than fifth of the eight runners, beaten 16 lengths at 13/8.

Daragh Bourke also figured in the third member of the overnight triumvirate. A former £260,000 buy from Tattersalls Cheltenham sale in 2017 after winning an Irish point and Galway bumper, Gallahers Cross didn’t win for Nicky Henderson and was sold on for £40k.

Between June 2019 and January last year he ran five times for Bourke beginning with an 8th of 9, beaten 48 lengths at 7/1, when the gloss of the decent placed Henderson form had not properly worn off. Next came an 8th of 10, beaten 62 lengths at 20/1; 11th of 12, beaten 54 lengths at 28/1; 7th of 7, beaten 39 lengths at 16/1; and, finally, last month, 7th of 8, beaten 50 lengths at 9/1. This time the official reaction to the string of poor performances was a reduction from 115 to 90.

So it is possible, even on the scantiest of scrutiny, to discern a pattern. Each of the three horses had a series of very poor runs from their respective (two, close together) bases in Scotland in the latter half of last year, and all three dropped just over a stone in the ratings and suddenly found form enough on the home gallops to persuade certain people to want to back them, and all on the same day.

The only thing that went wrong – possibly denying winning trebles into the thousands of odds against – was that Gallahers Cross, a 4-5 shot at the off, could finish only fourth of the seven runners, behind an all-the-way Paul Nicholls top-weight winner, Get The Appeal. Like Gallahers Cross, Get The Appeal is a son of Getaway.

As someone who set up a multiple bet many years ago which foundered at the final leg of four (when a future – two runs later! – Group 1 winner ridden by a multiple champion jockey finished unplaced), I can sympathise with those who thought their big pay day had come. On the other hand, any one of them whom I happen to know who didn’t bother to let me in on it – serves you right! But then, as with our try all those years ago that involved physically covering 300 betting shops, rather than pushing a few buttons on computers, two out of three isn’t bad.

Finally, it just remains to question how can any horse beat Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle after Saturday’s romp in the Irish Champion, a victory far more emphatic than last year’s? Tough, with plenty of stamina and unbeaten in one point-to-point and ten runs under Rules, surely the Henry De Bromhead mare can give Rachael Blackmore the distinction of being the first woman to win the Champion Hurdle. Sorry Epatante, unless Nico can contrive to make this a speed rather than a stamina test, her crown definitely looks to rest precariously on her head.

As Liverpool FC are finding, it’s one thing to win a championship, quite another successfully to defend it.

Appreciate It secures Grade One double at Leopardstown

Appreciate It bagged a second Grade One from just three runs over timber in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Willie Mullins’ inmate, who was second in the Champion Bumper last March, was backed as if defeat was out of the question and sent off the 1-3 favourite.

Paul Townend decided to keep things simple on the seven-year-old, having him on the pace throughout on the inside.

With half a mile to run, the field was still tightly packed, but when Townend wound things up, only Ballyadam emerged as a serious threat.

Appreciate It was clear before pinging the last flight
Appreciate It was clear before pinging the last flight (Niall Carson/PA)

While Gordon Elliott’s charge was put well in his place when fourth at Christmas, he made much more of a fight of it this time but having closed to within a length, Appreciate It still had more to give and went three and a quarter lengths clear. Blue Lord, a stablemate of the winner, was third.

Betfair trimmed the winner into 13-8 from 9-4 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle next month.

Mullins said: “He was very good when Paul set him alight. I thought he put it to bed straight away after the second last.

“There looked to be a gang of horses queuing up to take him on, but when he changed gear there was just one horse left, Ballyadam, and Ballyadam got tired going to the last and fluffed it. He has a good engine.

“He seems to tick every box, I’d like him to jump better than he did today. I thought he was a little careless down the back – I think he has a better jump in him.”

Townend said: “He wasn’t as breathtaking as he was at Christmas, but he ground it out, which is the sign of a good horse.

“He didn’t jump with as much fluency and was never in control of the race like I thought I could have been, but the good ones get it done and thankfully he has done it.”

Appreciate It powers home in Future Champions contest

Appreciate It provided Willie Mullins with a sixth victory in the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown.

The six-year-old won twice in the bumper sphere at Leopardstown last season before filling the runner-up spot behind his currently sidelined stable companion Ferny Hollow in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Having made a successful start to his hurdling career at Cork last month, Appreciate It was the 7-4 favourite stepping up to Grade One level and could hardly have been more impressive in the hands of Paul Townend.

After tracking the pacesetting Fire Attack for much of the two-mile journey, the six-year-old took the lead early in the home straight and powered clear after the dolled off final flight – passing the post nine lengths clear of Irascible, with Keskonrisk third.

Gordon Elliott’s Royal Bond winner Ballyadam was ultimately a shade disappointing in fourth.

Mullins said “He surprised me and impressed me. I was wondering if he was a two-and-a-half-mile horse or a two-mile horse. I know he can easily do it over two and a half, but to come back to two miles and put in a performance like that in a Grade One was impressive.

“I’d say we will go down the two-mile route now. He’s not flashy like Ferny Hollow, but he has a great cruising speed and he covers a lot of ground, which helps him to burn other horses off.

“He’ll probably have another run here at the Dublin Racing Festival.”

Following the champion trainer’s comments, Paddy Power make Appreciate It their 11-4 favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham (from 14-1), while easing him to 8-1 from 6-1 for the longer Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

Exciting times ahead for powerful team of Willie Mullins novices

Ferny Hollow and Appreciate It are expected to take high rank among Willie Mullins’ team of exciting novice hurdlers this season.

The pair were first and second in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham – an event the Closutton handler has dominated since its inception in 1992.

For assistant trainer and amateur jockey Patrick Mullins, it was a slightly bittersweet moment as he was riding Appreciate It.

“Ferny Hollow and Appreciate It are two fine specimens. Appreciate It is probably a bigger horse, he ran a cracker in the Champion Bumper, ran all the way to the line, but Ferny Hollow just picked him up,” said Mullins.

“Paul (Townend) gave Ferny a fantastic ride. I wasn’t gutted when he came past me, the only bit of commentary I heard was that Ferny Hollow was coming and I knew what would happen.

“That was our first winner of the week in the last race on the second day, so I was just glad it was one of ours by then!”

He went on: “Ferny Hollow will jump a fence no problem, he’s won a point, jumps will help him settle. Appreciate It will probably step up in trip and be more of a Neptune/Albert Bartlett type, while Ferny Hollow is probably a Supreme horse, or Neptune, depending how he goes.”

Another winner in March for the Mullins team was Burning Victory in the Triumph Hurdle – but her success was more than a little bit fortunate given the final-flight blunder by Goshen who was well clear.

“Burning Victory is not a natural jumper, you saw that at Fairyhouse and again at Cheltenham where Paul gave her a fantastic ride. It’s hard to think if she met Goshen she could beat him, but I suppose the Mares’ Hurdle could be an option. She’ll have to brush up her jumping,” said Mullins.

Burning Victory was a rather fortunate and surprise winner of the Triumph Hurdle
Burning Victory was a rather fortunate and surprise winner of the Triumph Hurdle (Simon Cooper/PA)

One who has made great strides already is another mare, Shewearsitwell, for a new syndicate attached to the yard.

“Shewearsitwell always works very well and has a great attitude, she could go for the Royal Bond,” said Mullins.

“It’s fantastic for Closutton Racing Club to get such a good horse so early on, she could be another Airlie Beach. It’s hard to think you might get two fillies like that, but we’re hoping. The mares’ novice at Cheltenham will be the ultimate aim.”

Albert Bartlett winner Monkfish heads a formidable squad of novice chasers that also includes Asterion Forlonge, The Big Getaway and Klassical Dream.

Mullins added: “Paul schooled Monkfish morning and was delighted with him. He’s a horse who is improving all the time and maturing – the penny is starting to drop and he’s as exciting a novice chaser as we have in the yard.

“Elixir D’Ainay and Asterion Forlonge, who both ran in the Supreme (Novices’ Hurdle) last season, will be going chasing – they both schooled well too.

“Asterion obviously jumped very right in the Supreme, but I schooled him (over fences) last week and he was fairly straight and we’re hoping it was just a one off.

“I thought what probably got overlooked was how well he ran, considering what he was doing throughout the race.

“I can’t wait to see The Big Getaway over three miles on heavy ground over fences. I think he’s the biggest horse we’ve ever had.

“Klassical Dream is probably going a bit under the radar. Last year just didn’t go to plan and his jumping fell apart, but he’s a horse with an awful lot of ability and I wouldn’t be forgetting about him at all.”