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Fascinating Morgiana in prospect as Elliott and Mullins go head to head

Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins hold all the aces in what remains a fascinating Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday, despite two defections.

Much attention will surround the Elliott-trained Zanahiyr, who is now the handler’s only runner following the withdrawal of Abacadabras.

The former lost his unbeaten record over timber when beaten favourite in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham, before just being denied in Grade One company at Punchestown.

Elliott floated the idea of stepping up in trip for the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle after his winning reappearance in the Grade Two WKD Hurdle at Down Royal, but he stays at two miles for his biggest test yet.

He said: “Willie’s two look like they are very good horses.

“Obviously he won (over the trip) in Down Royal, but it wouldn’t shock me if we have to step him out in trip at some stage.

“I couldn’t have been happier with Zanahiyr at Down Royal and this is another step up again and a big step for a four-year-old, but he’s been good since and it will tell us more about where he fits in.

The victory of Abacadabras 12 months ago interrupted a run of nine successive wins for Mullins – who numbers 10 in the race in total, including three with the mighty Hurricane Fly.

Echoes In Rain could go to the very top
Echoes In Rain could go to the very top (Niall Carson/PA)

He is represented this year by 2018 winner Sharjah and the improving mare Echoes In Rain, whose rise was cemented in the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, has struck up a fine relationship with Sharjah – being beaten only by Honeysuckle at Cheltenham – and takes the ride once more.

“Sharjah is just one step off the very, very best,” he said.

“He has a great record at Leopardstown at Christmas, but he will run this weekend. I’d expect a good performance, but he will probably improve for it.

“Echoes In Rain settles much better in her races now, which is great.

“It’s always hard stepping into open company from novices, but her performance at Fairyhouse was probably better than her Punchestown run so we’re going to give her every opportunity to be a Champion Hurdle mare.”

The Joseph O’Brien-trained Darasso, winner of the Lismullen Hurdle last weekend, was also declared but was another late withdrawal, leaving just three to contest the race.

Echoes In Rain pours it on to kickstart Mullins’ five-timer

Exciting mare Echoes In Rain kickstarted a remarkable five-timer for Willie Mullins on day one of the Punchestown Festival as she beat the boys impressively in the eCOMM Merchant Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle.

Mullins went on to score with Chacun Pour Soi in the feature William Hill Champion Chase and Colreevy in the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase – to make it a clean sweep of the card’s three Grade Ones – as well as Jazzaway and Adamantly Chosen.

The Closutton trainer had saddled seven previous winners of the Champion Novice Hurdle – including Hurricane Fly (2009), Faugheen (2014) and Douvan (2015).

This year he fired a twin assault, with dual Grade Two winner Echoes In Rain the 8-13 favourite under his son Patrick Mullins, and Blue Lord next best in the market at 15-8 in the hands of Paul Townend.

Blue Lord set out to make all the running, with Echoes In Rain always in his slipstream.

The favourite took the lead with relative ease on the run to the final flight, however, before kicking just over three lengths clear on the run-in.

Colonel Mustard (40-1) finished with a flourish to beat Blue Lord to the runner-up spot.

Mullins said: “It’s a great start to the week for Patrick and for Echoes In Rain’s connections.

“She is a filly that’s improving as she learns about racing. She just made one mistake, and Patrick blamed himself because he didn’t want her to jump it as well as she was setting herself up to jump it because she was going to land there too soon, so he let her fiddle it.

Patrick (left) and Willie Mullins with Echoes In Rain
Patrick (left) and Willie Mullins with Echoes In Rain (Niall Carson/PA)

“She’s a filly who has now won at the top level, and hopefully that’s where she’ll stay for the next couple of years.

“She could run on the Flat, but it’s taken us two years to settle her down, so I doubt I’m going to do that.

“I’d say we’ll probably stick to this jumping game. She’s learning how to pace herself jumping now, and you’d have to be happy with that.”

Asked whether he felt Echoes In Rain could develop into a Champion Hurdle contender, he added: “She’s improving every day and with every run and looks like she’s setting herself up to get a chance at it.”

Jazzaway (centre) in action at Punchestown
Jazzaway (centre) in action at Punchestown (Niall Carson/PA)

The champion trainer soon doubled up, with the Conor McNamara-ridden Jazzaway coming out on top in a thrilling finish to the 50,000 euro Killashee Hotel Handicap Hurdle.

The 10-1 shot looked likely to be caught by the fast-finishing Call Me Lyreen, but clung on by a short head.

Mullins said: “I’ve lost a bottle of champagne to Richie Galway (racecourse manager) because he said we’d held on and I said we hadn’t. He said ‘I bet you a bottle of Bollinger’ and I said ‘fair enough’!

“It’s great for Conor, claiming his 3lb, to get a victory like that – and great for the owners.

“Jazzaway will be kept on the go. We’ll look for more opportunities for her, if we can.”

Willie Mullins enjoyed another excellent day at Punchestown
Willie Mullins enjoyed an excellent day at Punchestown (Niall Carson/PA)

After the brilliant Chacun Pour Soi made it three winners for the Mullins team, Adamantly Chosen provided a fourth with a debut victory in the Goffs Land Rover Bumper.

Ridden by Jody Townend – sister of champion jockey Paul – the 5-1 shot got the better of Springwell Bay by three-quarters of a length.

Mullins said: “Jody was very good on the horse. He was one of the bargain purchases of the sales (cost 24,000 euros), which just shows you don’t have to have huge money to get the winner.

“The whole family like winning around here – we sourced Adamant Approach after seeing him in a schooling bumper here. I think a half-brother to this horse might have won around here, too.”

Mullins made it five in succession with Colreevy – but he was not the only trainer who had a day to remember, because Philip Rothwell also saddled two winners.

Cousin Harry (near side) winning at Punchestown
Cousin Harry (near side) winning at Punchestown (Niall Carson/PA)

Cousin Harry was a 25-1 scorer in the opening Have The Conversation Say Yes To Organ Donation Novice Handicap Hurdle, before 14-1 shot Singing Banjo landed the Kildare Hunt Club Fr Sean Breen Memorial Chase For The Ladies Perpetual Cup over the cross-country course.

After his first winner, Rothwell said: “I’m absolutely thrilled. We have three runners today, but I don’t have a huge number for the week.

“We’ve been really happy with Cousin Harry. He won very well in Navan and then we tried him over two-and-a-half in Fairyhouse. It was arguable whether he didn’t get the trip there or ran too keen.

“This fella has been great this year.”

Following Singing Banjo’s success, he added: “That’s absolutely magic. It’s great for the Walsh family (owners), and this has very little to do with me.

“He comes over a few weeks before he runs, and we ran him in a couple of hunter chases to have him ready for today.”

Mullins, with his son Patrick riding, was narrowly foiled in the last – by his nephew, as Emmet Mullins’ Crowns Major prevented runner-up Hara Kiri bringing up the six-timer.

The Japanese-bred four-year-old was sent off 11-2 to make a winning debut, and duly did so in the Irish Field – We Are All About The Horse INH Flat Race.

Hara Kiri challenged out wide from well off the pace, but was kept at bay by two and a half lengths, and the winning trainer said: “It’s been a long road and it’s finally paid off for me.

“We bought him in Japan as a foal four years ago. It was one of my crazier ideas.

“We were just a little worried about the ground with the rain, being Japanese bred.

“(Jockey) Philip (Byrnes) was very good – I told him to take his time and drop him in and pick the best of the ground. I know Patrick came wide for ground – but in these four-year-old races Philip got the rail, and that’s a huge advantage.”

Echoes In Rain pours it on at Punchestown

Exciting mare Echoes In Rain beat the boys with an impressive display in the eCOMM Merchant Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

Trainer Willie Mullins had saddled seven previous winners of the Grade One contest, with Hurricane Fly (2009), Faugheen (2014) and Douvan (2015) among those on the roll of honour.

This year the Closutton handler fired a twin assault, with dual Grade Two winner Echoes In Rain the 8-13 favourite under the trainer’s son Patrick Mullins, and Blue Lord next best in the market at 15-8 in the hands of Paul Townend.

Bidding to bounce back from a final-flight fall when seemingly booked for second behind stablemate Appreciate It in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, Blue Lord set out to make all the running, with Echoes In Rain always in his slipstream.

The favourite took over the lead with relative ease on the run to the final flight, however, before kicking just over three lengths clear on the run-in.

Colonel Mustard (40-1) finished with a flourish to beat Blue Lord to the runner-up spot late on and deny Mullins a one-two.

Mullins said: “It’s a great start to the week for Patrick and for Echoes In Rain’s connections.

“She is a filly that’s improving as she learns about racing. She just made one mistake, and Patrick blamed himself because he didn’t want her to jump it as well as she was setting herself up to jump it because she was going to land there too soon, so he let her fiddle it.

Patrick (left) and Willie Mullins with Echoes In Rain
Patrick (left) and Willie Mullins with Echoes In Rain (Niall Carson/PA)

“She’s a filly who has now won at the top level, and hopefully that’s where she’ll stay for the next couple of years.

“She could run on the Flat, but it’s taken us two years to settle her down, so I doubt I’m going to do that.

“I’d say we’ll probably stick to this jumping game. She’s learning how to pace herself jumping now, and you’d have to be happy with that.”

Asked whether he felt Echoes In Rain could develop into a Champion Hurdle contender, he added: “She’s improving every day and with every run and looks like she’s setting herself up to get a chance at it.”

Jazzaway (centre) in action at Punchestown
Jazzaway (centre) in action at Punchestown (Niall Carson/PA)

The champion trainer soon doubled up, with the Conor McNamara-ridden Jazzaway coming out on top in a thrilling finish to the 50,000 euro Killashee Hotel Handicap Hurdle.

The 10-1 shot looked likely to be caught by the fast-finishing Call Me Lyreen as the post loomed, but clung on by a short head.

Mullins said: “I’ve lost a bottle of champagne to Richie Galway (racecourse manager) because he said we’d held on and I said we hadn’t. He said ‘I bet you a bottle of Bollinger’ and I said ‘fair enough’!

“It’s great for Conor, claiming his 3lb, to get a victory like that – and great for the owners.

“Jazzaway will be kept on the go. We’ll look for more opportunities for her, if we can.”

Willie Mullins enjoyed another excellent day at Punchestown
Willie Mullins enjoyed another excellent day at Punchestown (Niall Carson/PA)

After the brilliant Chacun Pour Soi made it three winners on the card for the Mullins team in the William Hill Champion Chase, Adamantly Chosen brought up the yard’s four-timer with a debut victory in the Goffs Land Rover Bumper.

Ridden by Jody Townend – sister of champion jockey Paul – the 5-1 shot got the better of Springwell Bay by three-quarters of a length.

Mullins said: “Jody was very good on the horse. He was one of the bargain purchases of the sales (cost 24,000 euros), which just shows you don’t have to have huge money to get the winner.

“The whole family like winning around here – we sourced Adamant Approach after seeing him in a schooling bumper here. I think a half-brother to this horse might have won around here, too.”

Mullins made it five on the day with Colreevy in the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase.

Cousin Harry (near side) winning at Punchestown
Cousin Harry (near side) winning at Punchestown (Niall Carson/PA)

Trainer Philip Rothwell enjoyed a memorable afternoon by saddling two winners.

Cousin Harry was a 25-1 scorer in the opening Have The Conversation Say Yes To Organ Donation Novice Handicap Hurdle, before 14-1 shot Singing Banjo landed the Kildare Hunt Club Fr Sean Breen Memorial Chase For The Ladies Perpetual Cup over the cross-country course.

After his first winner, Rothwell said: “I’m absolutely thrilled. We have three runners today, but I don’t have a huge number for the week.

“We’ve been really happy with Cousin Harry. He won very well in Navan and then we tried him over two-and-a-half in Fairyhouse. It was arguable whether he didn’t get the trip there or ran too keen.

“This fella has been great this year.”

Following Singing Banjo’s success, he added: “That’s absolutely magic. It’s great for the Walsh family (owners), and this has very little to do with me.

“He comes over a few weeks before he runs, and we ran him in a couple of hunter chases to have him ready for today.”

Echoes In Rain impresses with Fairyhouse victory

Echoes In Rain scooted to a wide-margin victory in the Paddy Kehoe Suspended Ceilings Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

The Willie Mullins-trained mare was bidding for her second successive victory at Grade Two level following a comprehensive display at Naas last month and could hardly have been more impressive in the hands of Paul Townend.

Anchored at the rear of the field for much of the two-mile journey, the keen-going five-year-old made ground to move onto the heels of the leaders before the home turn.

While her rivals were hard at work, Echoes In Rain was still full of running early in the straight under a motionless Townend – and once given her head, she readily pulled 15 lengths clear.

Mullins, winning the race for a seventh time from the last eight runnings, also saddled the runner-up M C Muldoon.

He said: “She’s got plenty of talent, but she just needs to settle. She’s settling and learning all the time.

“We didn’t want to bring her to Cheltenham for the Mares’ Hurdle because I thought she might boil over.

“In better races you can settle her in behind a bit more.

“She’s improving all the time, so we’ll go on to Punchestown now.”

Ashdale Bob jumps the final flight in front at Fairyhouse
Ashdale Bob jumps the final flight in front at Fairyhouse (Niall Carson/PA)

There was a far tighter finish to the other Grade Two on the card – the Colm Quinn BMW Novice Hurdle.

With 4-5 favourite Gentlemansgame a little disappointing in third, it was left to Jessica Harrington’s 10-1 shot Ashdale Bob and 12-1 chance Decimation to fight out a thrilling finish.

No quarter was given by either horse or jockey, but it was Ashdale Bob who edged a neck ahead at the line under Robbie Power.

Townend taken to hospital for a precautionary X-ray on his foot after fall from Egality Mans.

Kate Harrington, assistant to her mother, said: “We’re delighted with that. Robert said it was pure class that got him through it.

“He’s grown a lot since Christmas and is only starting to fill his frame. He’s going to be a lovely horse for next season.

“We’ll have a chat to mum and the owners, but I imagine we’ll probably leave him at that for this season – he could be a very exciting horse going over a fence next year.”

Harrington and Power doubled up with Jungle Junction in the following BoyleSports Novice Handicap Chase, while El Barra (5-4 favourite) had earlier won the Ryan’s Cleaning, Waste And Recycling Maiden Hurdle for the Mullins-Townend combination.

El Barra delighted favourite backers in the opening race
El Barra delighted favourite backers in the opening race (Niall Carson/PA)

The champion trainer’s assistant, David Casey, said: “The ground was nice for him and he was able to dictate in front

“He ran a bit keen in Leopardstown and disappointed, and probably the same a little bit in Naas.

“We dropped him back to two miles in Navan and he ran well. He’s putting it together.

“I’d imagine he’ll be over fences next season.”

Wild Shot finished fourth in the race, but was banned from running for 60 days and his rider Dylan Browne suspended for 21 days after the stewards ruled he had not gained the best possible placing at a subsequent inquiry.

Dark Raven was an impressive winner
Dark Raven was an impressive winner (Niall Carson/PA)

Following the success of Janidil in the Underwriting Exchange Gold Cup Novice Chase, Dark Raven made it four on the day for the Mullins team with victory in the closing Tattersalls Ireland George Mernagh Memorial Sales Bumper.

Sent off the 4-7 favourite, he hacked up by 11 lengths in the hands of Patrick Mullins.

Rain bounces back to winning form for Mullins team

Echoes In Rain got back on the winning trail with a thoroughly impressive display in the Paddy Power Betting Shop Novice Hurdle at Naas.

The Willie Mullins-trained mare bolted up over the course and distance in December, before finishing fourth in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown on her latest appearance.

The daughter of Authorized was the 11-8 favourite to strike Grade Two gold at the second attempt – and after tracking the pacesetting Razzle Dazzle Love for much of the two-mile journey, she travelled powerfully into the lead early in the home straight.

Belfast Banter came from further back to try to close the gap, but Echoes In Rain never looked in serious danger of being caught in the hands of Paul Townend and could easily have won by further than the official margin of eight lengths.

Mullins said: “She’s learning and at least she got a full round of jumping in there, not like the last day here, when it was nearly a Flat race (hurdles not jumped in the straight due to the low lying sun).

“She’s learning how to settle and there was a good pace, which helped her.”

Considering future targets, the champion trainer added: “There is a race here in a fortnight that might be a little too soon for her and there is also a novice in Fairyhouse at Easter.

“She had a tough enough race there because she is tough on herself. Maybe the experience over hurdles is teaching her to race and it might do her no harm experience-wise for the future.

“She has a lovely turn of foot and if we could teach her to settle better and use that, she could make a very smart two-miler.

“A faster pace over better ground would help her. She’s going the right way.”