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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.

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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.

Kemboy gallops to Irish Gold Cup glory

Kemboy made every yard of the running to win the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

Agonisingly caught close home by A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase at Christmas, this time he was allowed to dominate throughout.

Ridden by Danny Mullins, with Paul Townend preferring the claims of the unplaced Melon, Kemboy only briefly looked in danger on the run to the second last.

Rachael Blackmore moved the favourite Minella Indo to within a length of Kemboy but hit the fence hard, handing back the initiative to Kemboy and he never looked likely to relinquish it.

Willie Mullins, who has mopped up the Grade One contests over the weekend, had feared the ground would be too soft for the nine-year-old, but he did not look inconvenienced in the slightest.

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Kemboy jumped the last in fine style and kept up the gallop to win by two lengths from The Storyteller, with Delta Work third.

Paddy Power cut the winner to 10-1 from 14s for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

Mullins said: “That’s fantastic for Danny and his owners.

“He’s really surprised me on that ground. The chase track is a lot better than the hurdle track and they went up the middle, which is better again.

“I thought all the rain we had might have affected that fella, but he seems to be getting stronger with age.

“I had Paul (Townend) down on this guy and Patrick (Mullins) down to ride the other guy (Melon), but Paul said he’d like to ride Melon.

“Different tactics didn’t work on Melon, I’d say he just likes to enjoy himself and get on with it. Melon keeps his best for Cheltenham, but hasn’t managed to get to the lollipop in front yet (four times second at the Festival).

“We’ll have a think with (owner) Mr Donnelly about Melon, maybe something like the Ryanair might suit, and let him enjoy himself from the beginning – that might suit him better.

“Danny got some great leaps out of the winner, I only spotted one mistake on the first circuit. Rachael came after him down the back, but his jumping got him out of it.

“I’m very pleased to win another Paddy Power Gold Cup.”

Mullins admitted a switch back to smaller obstacles at Cheltenham remains a possibility, despite his victory.

He added: “He’s entered in the Stayers’ Hurdle as well as the Gold Cup, as I’m just not sure if fences are his thing around Cheltenham. We were all wondering if we should try something different as Cheltenham hasn’t been his luckiest spot.”

Danny Mullins said: “Myself and David (Mullins, recently retired jockey) were chatting after the race at Christmas and he said he’s not fast, but is a great galloper and this is a ride he would probably have had, so it’s thanks to him that I am on board today.

“It’s great to be winning these high-level races at the big meetings, it’s what it’s all about and riding a good horse like this is fantastic.”

Hennessy and Condon in Leopardstown Heaven

Heaven Help Us provided trainer Paul Hennessy and young jockey Richard Condon with the biggest success of their careers in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Paddy Mullins Mares Handicap Hurdle.

The seven-year-old found herself back over timber after a relatively unsuccessful spell over fences and she looked much more at home.

Condon took a lead into the straight off Razzle Dazzle Love, before kicking off the bend and seemingly putting the race to bed.

However, the 16-1 chance slowed into the final flight and lost some momentum, giving JJ Slevin a squeak on Global Equity, but Heaven Help Us held on by a neck.

“It’s a great thrill to win Paddy’s race. We were neighbours and when I was a young lad he would often bring me to the races and make sure I got home as well,” said Hennessy, who is also a successful greyhound trainer.

“I’m ecstatic. You look at the strength of that race. I just thought she wasn’t mad about the fences, but she was second in a Grade One (over hurdles last season).

“I thought we’d switch back to hurdles and it worked out.

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“Danny (Mullins) wasn’t available because Willie wanted him, but Richie came in and rode her out for me. I told him he could ride her and he took 7lb off.

“It’s great for us and for her. She won at Cheltenham for us and was second in a Grade One – she’s magic.

“She might go for a Pertemps Qualifier at Punchestown to try to get her into Cheltenham. I’d love to have a runner at the Festival.”

Not content with mopping up most of the Grade Ones over the weekend, Willie Mullins also scooped the valuable William Fry Handicap Hurdle with unconsidered 40-1 shot Maze Runner.

He was ridden by Conor McNamara, brother of Derby winner, Emmet.

He said: “It’s lovely to get it. I rode him the last day in Navan when he was a bit gassy and a bit keen.

“I got a lovely position, he relaxed but I was conscious to get there as late as I could. He was good and tough.”

Mullins added: “I’ll look forward to all the Festivals with him for the rest of the season and he can go back and race on the Flat as well. He can mix it between the two and he might win a chase at some stage.

“There could be a big handicap in him on the Flat.”

Mullins ended the meting as he started it with another winner in the Coolmore N.H. Sires Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares I.N.H. Flat Race, but it was with the relatively unconsidered Grangee (18-1) who prevailed.

Mullins said: Jody (Townend, jockey) springs a surprise. She did exactly as I asked her to, which was to keep her powder dry until the end.

“I was surprised she was beaten at Market Rasen but the winner (Eileendover) looks very good.

“We’ll have a chat about Cheltenham, the ground might be too good by Aintree.”

The Charles Byrnes-trained Off You Go (10-1) won at the meeting for a third time in the Gaelic Plant Hire Leopardstown Chase after two wins over hurdles previously.

Byrnes is currently allowed runners as he has appealed against a six-month ban handed out following the Viking Hoard case.

“That’s his third win here and Mark was brilliant on him. We thought he would run well at Limerick over Christmas, but he just can’t jump out of the heavy ground,” said Byrnes.

Of the Viking Hoard case, he added: “I can’t say much with the appeal on Tuesday evening. It’s very upsetting for my family and racing in general and we have to let the case run its course.”

Minella Indo headlines five contenders for Irish Gold Cup glory

Minella Indo heads a small but select field of five runners declared for the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday.

Henry de Bromhead’s charge is a short-priced favourite to bounce back from an uncharacteristic fall in the Savills Chase over the course and distance in December and reaffirm his claims for the Cheltenham Gold Cup next month.

The eight-year-old is reopposed by three other horses who contested the Savills Chase in Kemboy, Melon and Delta Work.

The Willie Mullins-trained pair of Kemboy and Melon finished a close-up second and third behind De Bromhead’s A Plus Tard just under six weeks ago, while Gordon Elliott’s Delta Work – who won the Savills Chase and the Irish Gold Cup last season – unseated his rider.

With stable jockey Paul Townend siding with Melon, Danny Mullins takes over in the saddle from his newly-retired cousin David Mullins aboard Kemboy.

He said: “He’s got a good chance in it and it’s great to renew the partnership with him.

“I actually rode him on his chasing debut in Fairyhouse a few years ago, when he ran a good race to finish second to Sutton Place. He’s won plenty of good races since then and seems in good order, so hopefully he’ll run a big race.

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“Ruth Dudfield usually rides him in all his work and seems pleased with him.”

The quintet is completed by Elliott’s second string The Storyteller, who was last seen finishing second behind Flooring Porter in the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle.

Monkfish is a hot favourite for the Flogas Novice Chase
Monkfish is a hot favourite for the Flogas Novice Chase (PA)

Potential Gold Cup horses of the future contest the preceding Flogas Novice Case, which stages a third clash between the Mullins-trained Monkfish and Paul Nolan’s stable star Latest Exhibition.

Monkfish denied Latest Exhibition by a neck when landing the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, but was more authoritative when winning a Grade One over fences at this venue in December.

The Rich Ricci-owned seven-year-old is odds-on to confirm his superiority, despite dropping back from three miles to an extended two miles and five furlongs.

Mullins also saddles Asterion Forlonge, who needs to bounce back after successive falls, as well as Janidil.

Gordon Elliott’s Andy Dufresne also features in a nine-strong field.

Mullins also houses the red-hot favourite for the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle in Appreciate It, who was a hugely impressive winner over the course and distance last time and already heads ante-post lists for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The son of Jeremy is joined by no less than five stable companions in Blue Lord, N’golo, Galopin Des Champs, Mr Coldstone and Hook Up.

Elliott’s Ballyadam, De Bromhead’s Irascible and Paddy Corkery’s Master McShee are among the opposition.

The first of four Grade Ones on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival is the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle, in which Elliott’s Quilixios puts his unbeaten record on the line.

Mullins is represented by Ha D’or, Saint Sam and Youmdor, but his new recruit French Aseel has not been declared.

Willie Mullins at his yard earlier this week
Willie Mullins at his yard earlier this week (Morgan Treacy/INPHO/PA)

Mullins again appears to hold all the aces in the concluding N.H. Sires Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares I.N.H. Flat Race – with five of the 11 runners hailing from Closutton.

The trainer’s son Patrick has sided with Brandy Love over Brooklynn Glory (Barry O’Neill), Purple Mountain (Tom Hamilton), Take Tea (Derek O’Connor) and Grangee (Jody Townend).

The big danger appears to be Hollymount, who makes her first start for Elliott having recently been snapped up for £300,000.

Nolan weighing up Leopardstown options for Latest Exhibition

Ground conditions are likely to be key in deciding which race Latest Exhibition will contest at this weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival.

Paul Nolan’s stable star was widely expected to take on the Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish for a third time in the Flogas Novice Chase on Sunday, having filled the runner-up spot behind him in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham last March and at Leopardstown in December.

However, Nolan also left Latest Exhibition in Saturday’s Patrick Ward & Company Solicitors Irish Arkle at the confirmation stage on Tuesday – and the Enniscorthy-based trainer is in no rush to commit to either race just yet.

He said: “We’re just keeping our options open. We’re not 100 per cent sure yet and I don’t want to say any more than that.

“They’re both good races. The Flogas is a longer trip and possibly empties you out a bit more for Cheltenham.

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“We’re hoping to God they don’t get too much rain, basically. If they got a couple of days for it to dry out and the ground was on the nicer side of soft, I’d be happier.

“At this time of year, coming into the spring, you’d be hoping that if it got a few dry days Leopardstown could dry up very quickly.”

Latest Exhibition holds entries in the two-and-a-half-mile Marsh Novices’ Chase, the three-mile Festival Novices’ Chase and the National Hunt Chase over three miles and six furlongs at next month’s Cheltenham Festival – and Nolan admits there is no easy option.

He added: “The novice chasers seem to be of a very high standard this year. Even if you went for the National Hunt Chase, you might meet Venetia Williams’ horse (Royal Pagaille), who looks a potential Gold Cup horse.

“You’d imagine no matter what race Envoi Allen goes for he’ll win it. Even if he was in the Gold Cup, he might win it – to me he looks a step above everything and the real ‘Mr Unbeatable’ in my book.

“They seem to be an exceptional bunch of novices. You look at the Irish Gold Cup this weekend, there’s only five horses left in it – and if a top novice like Monkfish ran in it, they wouldn’t look out of place.”

Latest Exhibition will lead a four-strong Nolan team at Leopardstown.

The trainer said: “We have Mrs Milner and Tucanae in the mares’ handicap hurdle on Sunday.

“I thought Mrs Milner ran a nice race in the Pertemps qualifier in Leopardstown the last day, when we probably made too much use of her.

“She’s in the three-mile handicap hurdle this weekend as well, but we’re thinking of dropping her back in trip to run against the mares.

“Tucanae was a bit disappointing in Clonmel last time, but hopefully she’ll run there as well, and we’ll run Fitzhenry in the two-mile-five Leopardstown Handicap Chase.”

Owner Maloney hoping Minella Indo can deliver in Irish Gold Cup

Minella Indo’s owner Barry Maloney admits his charge “needs to deliver” in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup on Sunday.

A short-priced favourite with the sponsors for the feature race on the second day of the Dublin Racing Festival, the eight-year-old has to bounce back from an early fall in the Savills Chase over Christmas.

“Look, it was a very novicey mistake last time – he got too close and never rose up,” said Maloney.

“He’d not put a foot wrong before that and hopefully it was a one-off. Rachael (Blackmore) was up on him last week and jumped a few and he was jumping beautifully with no adverse effects and we’re hopeful.”

Rachael Blackmore was all smiles after winning the Albert Bartlett
Rachael Blackmore was all smiles after winning the Albert Bartlett (Paul Harding/PA)
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That was the first real blemish of Minella Indo’s career, as he had never been out of the first three prior to that.

“He’s been great – he only got half a race last time and we’re excited to get this run into him. He’s the kind of horse who needs a lot of work and we’re looking forward to him running,” said Maloney.

“Before last time he’s never been out of the three, mostly in the two, and look, he’s been unbelievable. He’s one of those horses that we’re very privileged to be involved with and we’re hoping that he will redeem himself and we’re very excited for the race.”

Minella Indo is prominent in the betting for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham and having won the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and been caught in the shadow of the post by Champ in the RSA last season, Prestbury Park certainly holds no fears.

“He will definitely go for the Cheltenham Gold Cup if all goes well on Sunday,” said Maloney.

“He’ll head to the Gold Cup for sure and look, in the RSA last year his jumping was faultless until the last fence and for whatever reason, he got over it but not very well.

“Had he jumped the last fence like he jumped the rest of them, Champ wouldn’t have got to him. Allaho was there after the last and fair play to Champ, but had he jumped it, he would not have been caught – no way.

“Fingers crossed he’s favourite for Sunday’s race and he’s in against the big boys. He fluffed his lines last time and he needs to deliver this time.”

Minella Indo heads five left in Irish Gold Cup

Minella Indo will bid to get his season back on track in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday.

Narrowly denied by Champ in a thrilling climax to the RSA Chase at Cheltenham last season, Henry de Bromhead’s charge was so impressive in winning his first two tarts of the current campaign he was clear favourite for the Savills Chase over the Irish Gold Cup course and distance.

The eight-year-old only made it as far as the eighth fence at the Christmas fixture before falling in a race won by his stablemate A Plus Tard – but with the latter heading straight to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Minella Indo is well fancied to reaffirm his own claims for the blue riband.

Rachael Blackmore will be in the saddle once again, on a horse she has plenty of affection for.

She said: “Minella Indo has been fantastic to me. He gave me my first Grade One in the Albert Bartlett in Cheltenham, which was an incredible day.

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“We’re really looking forward to running him. It was unfortunate what happened to him in Leopardstown the last day, (but) he seems to have been very good since – I gave him a pop (over fences) last week and there seems to be no ill effects.

“It was just one of those things and we move on to the next day.”

Minella Indo will face a maximum of just four rivals in the feature event on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival – but still faces a far from straightforward task.

Willie Mullins, who has won the Irish Gold Cup on a record 10 occasions, is set to saddle both Kemboy and Melon, who finished second and third respectively behind A Plus Tard over the Christmas period.

Kemboy at Willie Mullins' yard on Monday morning
Kemboy at Willie Mullins’ yard on Monday morning (Morgan Treacy/INPHO/PA)

Delta Work provided trainer Gordon Elliott with his first Irish Gold Cup when denying Kemboy 12 months ago. He is set to defend his crown, having unseated his rider when bidding for back-to-back Savills Chase wins.

Delta Work’s stablemate The Storyteller completes the quintet.

The Mullins-trained Monkfish is the star attraction in the preceding Flogas Novice Chase, a race in which his stablemate Faugheen brought the house down with victory 12 months ago.

Monkfish is a red-hot favourite to follow suit, while Mullins could also saddle Asterion Forlonge and Janidil.

Elliott’s Andy Dufresne and Paul Nolan’s Latest Exhibition head the opposition.

With Triumph Hurdle favourite Zanahiyr taken out, Elliott looks set to rely on the unbeaten Quilixios in the first Grade One of the afternoon, the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle.

Mullins is poised to saddle new recruit French Aseel, who was mightily impressive at the track in December before changing hands.

Mullins’ Appreciate It, ante-post favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, heads 19 remaining contenders for the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle.

The champion trainer also has Ganapathi and Mr Coldstone as part of his eight-strong team.

Change of tactics on the cards for Irish Gold Cup hope Melon

Willie Mullins may implement a change of tactics for Melon in Sunday’s Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup, the headline event on the second day of the Dublin Racing Festival.

The nine-year-old has the unwanted record of finishing second at the last four Cheltenham Festivals, hitting the bar in the Supreme and twice in the Champion Hurdle before being edged out by a nose in last year’s Marsh Novices’ Chase.

He gained another near-miss in the Savills Chase at Christmas when A Plus Tard finished with a real flourish to scupper both third-placed Melon and stablemate Kemboy, who took second.

Willie Mullins overseeing his string on the gallops
Willie Mullins overseeing his string on the gallops (Morgan Treacy/INPHO/PA Wire)

“I was thinking one of them – please. If either of them had fallen at the last you’d have been thinking how far, but they didn’t. They probably didn’t help each other and I think we’ll probably change tactics with Melon,” said Mullins.

“Up to now we’ve been putting cheekpieces on Melon, putting go faster stripes on him so he could be more competitive over two miles and two and a half.

“You’d have to think if we change tactics a bit, it might suit us better.”

The recent weather has not been in Kemboy’s favour, but he will need a new jockey following the retirement of David Mullins.

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The trainer said: “He seems to like Leopardstown, but the only worry is the rain – they got a huge amount over the weekend.”

Mullins would have liked a third runner in the race but Castlebawn West, winner of a big handicap with top weight over Christmas, is out for the remainder of the season.

“Castlebawn West is unfortunately out, he split a pastern during the week. He’s up in hospital now with five new screws in. So he’s out for the season, but hopefully he’s back next season,” said Mullins.

Arguably Mullins’ banker of the meeting is due to run in the Flogas Novice Chase – the impressive Monkfish – although who will join him has still to be decided.

Monkfish with Holly Conte on board at Willie Mullins' Closutton yard
Monkfish with Holly Conte on board at Willie Mullins’ Closutton yard (Morgan Treacy/INPHO/PA Wire)

“I suppose Monkfish is the obvious one, Colreevy won’t go she had a hard race the other day. Janadil I’d be keen to have a crack there, Franco De Port and Energumene will run over two miles,” said Mullins.

“I didn’t run Asterion (Forlonge) over three miles yesterday so he could go here, he’s won a Grade One there over two miles. I know he jumps a little bit right, but we might try different tactics on him. It’s a bigger concern he fell at the first the last day than jumping right!

“Monkfish looks a real natural. All this rain will suit him and two-five won’t be an issue.”

A new recruit to the yard heads Mullins’ team in the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle in French Aseel, a winner for Ellmarie Holden first time out.

“French Aseel looked very good at Christmas and the form got franked again yesterday. He’s a lovely type and has settled in well. I’m pleased with him so we’ll see how he goes during the week,” said Mullins.

“Youmdor got a hard fall. On the day I thought he was quite knocked about, but he came home that night and ate up and he’s been fine since. I’ll have to think about whether I’m going to run him or not, I’ll see how he works this week.

“He was going well and would have been the shortest price in running, he just changed his mind when Paul (Townend) asked him.”

Ha D’or and Saint Sam could also run.

“Ha D’or was having his first run over hurdles at Christmas, he’s sure to improve a huge bit. We just wanted to see how he could jump and he jumped well. He’ll be a nice horse some day, but this might be too early in his career,” reasoned Mullins.

“I think Saint Sam ran better than his finishing position, he got the worst run of the race and he’s improving all the time. He’s got ground to make up on Zanahiyr, but I do think he’s improving.”

The Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle is the next stop for Appreciate It, current favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He could be joined by Mr Coldstone.

“Appreciate It is in great shape. I was hugely taken with the performance he put in at Christmas,” said Mullins.

“Gauloise will run in the Solerina Hurdle next Monday, but Mr Coldstone impressed me with what he did down in Tramore, so maybe he’ll take his chance and we’ll see what he is.”

Sharjah to headline Willie Mullins’ Saturday Leopardstown team

Sharjah is set to head Willie Mullins’ three-pronged attack on the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday.

The eight-year-old won the Grade One Matheson Hurdle at the Dublin track for the third successive season at Christmas and will be accompanied by stablemates Saint Roi and Saldier this weekend.

They finished fourth and sixth respectively behind him last time.

“I’m very happy with them and hoping Saldier will run a lot better than he did at Christmas. He seemed to need the run,” said Mullins.

“Saint Roi was a little disappointing, but I think he will improve on that too.

“Sharjah does not need to improve. I hope he doesn’t do what he did last year and make a mistake at the first hurdle down the back, which threw him completely for the rest of the race.”

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Chacun Pour Soi will be out to repeat last year’s victory in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase following his Grade One triumph there over Christmas.

“I was delighted with him at Christmas. We got a run into him down in Cork and that paid off well,” Mullins told a Dublin Racing Festival zoom press call.

“I think he’s in great shape and I’m hoping he’ll be just himself in that race.

“We still have Min there and Tornado Flyer.

“We’ll probably let Min take his chance, but we haven’t fully decided which direction we’re going with Tornado Flyer yet. We’ll see how he works during the week.”

The exciting Energumene heads six Mullins’ entries in the Patrick Ward & Company Solicitors Irish Arkle Novice Chase.

The seven-year-old has created a big impression in winning both his starts over fences.

“He looks a natural chaser. He easily went back to two miles, so I think he has to take his chance here,” said the Closutton trainer.

“Of course we’ll have Franco De Port who won at Christmas as well. Was he a lucky winner? We don’t know. They went a ferocious gallop that day.

“Unexcepted is a good horse over two miles as well, so it will be interesting to see if he turns up.

“Janidil is in the same ownership as Unexcepted, so he might go for a longer race.

“Asterion Forlonge probably won’t go there, even though he was a Grade One winner on the track. As for Blackbow, we’ll see.”

Mullins has yet to finalise his runners for the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors 50K Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff Novice Hurdle over two and three-quarter miles.

He has 10 entries out of a total of 36 possibles and they include Gaillard Du Mesnil, who was impressive over two and a half miles on this course in late December.

“He’s been very good. I think the horse he beat (Mr Incredible) won at Naas on Sunday, so the form is working out well.”

Ganapathi, Shadow Rider, Stattler and Blue Lord may join him in the line-up.

Brion hoping Light can shine in Leopardstown Grade One

French Light will add a touch of international flavour to the Dublin Racing Festival when he runs in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle on February 7.

Trained by American Keri Brion, he is one of a handful of horses currently in Ireland with the former assistant to US Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard.

Second on his Irish debut at Clonmel when just running out of gas close home, Brion is hoping a quicker surface will see him in an even better light.

“He ran really well, but just got very tired in the last furlong. That ground would have been completely unsuitable for him,” she said.

“To be fair, two and a half miles in that ground was stretching him. We think he’s very good.

“We’re here for a short time, so we’ve decided we’re going to see what he can do and take him to Leopardstown and the Grade One novice.

“It should be good enough ground that day, so we’ll give him a shot against the big boys. I’ve heard the ground has been good for the last couple of years, so much so some trainers think it’s been too fast.

“He actually doesn’t mind getting his toe in, but it was horrible and tacky at Clonmel.

“He has an incredible amount of speed, so if we could hit the board in a race like that, it would make the whole trip worth it.”

Ashdale Bob handed Leopardstown target

Ashdale Bob has been given the go ahead to run in the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors 50k Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff’ Novice Hurdle on the opening day of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.

Jessica Harrington’s six-year-old won his first two outings over timber impressively, including a Grade Two at Navan.

He was then fancied for the Grade One Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle, but he was an early faller in the contest won by Bob Olinger.

“Ashdale Bob will go for the two miles and six furlongs race at Leopardstown next weekend. He’s a stayer,” said Harrington.

“He’s flying and had no race the last day. He’s absolutely perfect after the fall.

“It was just unfortunate as he came up a stride and a half too far away from the hurdle. He was fine after it.”

De Bromhead pair feature in high-class Dublin Racing Festival entries

A Plus Tard and Minello Indo are on course for the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup on the second day of the Dublin Racing Festival.

The Henry de Bromhead-trained duo highlight the list of 12 possibles for the February 7 showpiece following their differing fortunes over Christmas.

Minella Indo was sent off favourite for the Savills Chase at Leopardstown, but was an early casualty, while A Plus Tard finished with a wet sail to catch Kemboy and Melon.

The Willie Mullins pair could once again be in opposition, as could their stablemate Castlebawn West, but there was no entry for dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo.

Gordon Elliott’s Delta Work, Presenting Percy, Samcro and The Storyteller all feature, but there are no British entries for any of the Grade Ones over the two days of the big meeting.

Elliott’s Envoi Allen is one of 17 in the Flogas Novice Chase, in which he could be joined by stablemate Andy Dufresne and Pencilfulloflead.

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Monkfish has made a big impression over fences to date
Monkfish has made a big impression over fences to date (PA Wire)

Mullins’ Monkfish, Colreevy and Asterion Forlonge all have the option.

Impressive debut winner French Aseel, now with Mullins having been bought out of Ellmarie Holden’s yard, is among 16 in the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle.

Elliott’s Zanahiyr has created a big impression to date and would be a leading contender along with stablemates Duffle Coat and Quilixios.

A total of 25 promising types have been entered in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle over two miles.

Once more, the list is dominated by Mullins and Elliott with Appreciate It likely to be Mullins’ main hope although he has given the mare Gauloise an entry against the boys.

Chacun Pour Soi (right) was impressive at Christmas
Chacun Pour Soi (right) was impressive at Christmas (PA Wire)

A day earlier Chacun Pour Soi appears as one of 11 in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase.

Jessica Harrington’s duo of Sizing Pottsie and Impact Factor have been entered along with Samcro.

De Bromhead’s top-class mare Honeysuckle headlines nine in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle.

Winner of the race last year, she could face stablemate Aspire Tower while Mullins has entered Sharjah, Saint Roi and Saldier.

Wednesday’s impressive winner Energumene is one of 15 in the Irish Arkle in which Mullins could also run Asterion Forlonge, Franco De Port and Unexcepted.

Envoi Allen also has the two-mile option along with Felix Desjy and Paul Nolan’s Latest Exhibition.

In the Nathaniel Lacy Solicitors Novice Hurdle there are 36 in the mix including Mullins’ Ganapathi, the Mouse Morris-trained Gentlemansgame and Emmet Mullins’ Cape Gentleman.