Tag Archive for: Facile Vega

Facile Vega records Cheltenham-Punchestown double

Facile Vega was made to pull out all the stops to maintain his unbeaten record in the Race & Stay At Punchestown Champion I.N.H. Flat Race at Punchestown.

But Quevega’s son proved he possesses plenty of guts to go with his undoubted quality in seeing off his Willie Mullins-trained stablemate Redemption Day, who was well fancied but disappointed in the championship event at Cheltenham.

All the pre-race talk concentrated on Facile Vega clashing again with Gordon Elliott’s American Mike, who had almost four lengths to make up from Cheltenham.

Jamie Codd was positive on American Mike and tracked the pace-setters while Patrick Mullins was content to follow him a few lengths adrift.

All the while, however, Jody Townend was following Mullins, determined to play her hand last of all.

When Mullins cruised up alongside American Mike he must have thought it was going to be straightforward, only to see Townend arrive sat motionless to his left.

Redemption Day did briefly get in front, but Facile Vega (8-15 favourite) responded generously to Mullins’ urgings, going on to score by a length and a quarter, with the pair pulling 14 lengths clear of American Mike.

Facile Vega was left unchanged as the 5-2 favourite for next year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle with Paddy Power.

Patrick Mullins celebrates on Facile Vega
Patrick Mullins celebrates on Facile Vega (Brian Lawless/PA)

“He had to pull it out there because Jody nearly stole it. She said ‘we didn’t beat him, but we frightened him’,” said Mullins senior.

“The horse had to dig deep and it’s the sign of a good horse. I don’t work them hard at home but he’s getting stronger all the time.

“The owners didn’t sell the mare and they put her in foal to the most expensive stallion in the country in Walk In The Park and they have got a fantastic horse out of it.

“There were big offers for this horse, but they decided they are not going to sell him. They are getting a reward and hopefully he will serve them for the next couple of years.

“He has huge potential and fingers crossed he stays right.”

Patrick Mullins said: “He was quite worked up in the parade ring and down at the start which wouldn’t be like him, so I think the season was probably starting to get to him a bit.

“I said it before Cheltenham that there wasn’t much between this fellow and Redemption Day on home work. Redemption Day is a very good horse as well.

“Turning out of the back straight, I’m thinking to myself ‘you’re a bit flat’ and I wanted to hold onto him as long as I could.

“I was happy I would beat American Mike for gears, but I thought that Redemption Day might be a little bit quicker than me.

“He was flat today and he still won, he got headed and he battled back. He’s the full package, he can do it tough if he needs to.”

Mullins hoping for another Facile victory with Vega

Patrick Mullins is relishing the opportunity to get back on board Cheltenham hero Facile Vega on day two of the Punchestown Festival.

A son of Walk In The Park out of the brilliant racemare Quevega, the five-year-old has so far lived up to his regal breeding with three dominant victories.

Quevega famously won the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on six occasions and Facile Vega got his name on the winner’s board in the Cotswolds when powering up the hill in the Champion Bumper last month.

The five-year-old will be a warm order to stretch his unbeaten record to four in the Race & Stay At Punchestown Champion I.N.H. Flat Race.

“All our good horses go to Punchestown, so this has been the plan,” said his rider.

“The Champion Bumper at Punchestown is worth more than the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham so it would be madness not to go for it

“He has come out of the race bucking and squealing and David Porter is very happy with him. Better ground shouldn’t inconvenience him and obviously his dam used to go from Cheltenham to Punchestown, so hopefully it won’t be any problem for him.”

Facile Vega is joined by two stablemates who finished behind him at Cheltenham in Madmansgame and Redemption Day, while Mullins also saddles Seabank Bistro and Viva Devito.

American Mike takes on Facile Vega again
American Mike takes on Facile Vega again (Niall Carson/PA)

The obvious threat is Gordon Elliott’s Cheltenham runner-up American Mike.

Mullins junior added: “Redemption Day didn’t handle the ground in Cheltenham. He’s a small, slight, quick horse who just got bogged down. I’d forgive him that run.

“Seabank Bistro might not be as effective on good ground. He’s a bigger, heavier type of horse, but it’s only a guess as he’s never run on good ground.

“We have an armada of good bumper horses. It’s a good crop going into next year.”

The first of three Grade Ones on the afternoon is the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle, which stages a rematch between stable companions The Nice Guy and Minella Cocooner.

The Mullins-trained pair finished first and second respectively in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham and are two of four runners for the champion trainer along with Bronn and Ramillies.

Elliott sends both Minella Crooner and Hollow Games, while Henry de Bromhead runs Journey With Me, who fell at the final flight when booked for a place in the Ballymore at Cheltenham last month.

Elliott said: “It was disappointing that Minella Crooner missed Cheltenham but it was just a minor issue and he didn’t miss much time, he just ran out of time before Cheltenham.

“He’s in good nick and it’s good to have him going there on Wednesday. Hopefully he runs his race.”

Facile Vega oozes class in Champion Bumper victory

Willie Mullins had concerns about the heavy ground ahead of the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, yet he need not have worried, as Facile Vega quickened up smartly to take the concluding race on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival.

The son of Walk In The Park, out of six-time Festival winner Quevaga is bred to be a champion, and while it is early days in his career, he has passed every test thus far.

Facile Vega (13-8 favourite) was ridden patiently by Patrick Mullins, who tracked Jamie Codd aboard American Mike and gained the inside berth running down the hill, as long-time leader, the free-going Houlanbatordechais, faded.

Mullins quickly asserted turning in and soon had his rivals in trouble, powering clear to score by three and three-quarter lengths from the Gordon Elliott-trained American Mike, with James’s Gate filling third for the Closutton handler, who was recording a treble on the day following earlier victories of Sir Gerhard and Energumene.

Facile Vega returns at a gloomy Cheltenham
Facile Vega returns at a gloomy Cheltenham (Ashley Iveson/PA)

The race had been delayed after the rain that hit the track from late morning and never stopped left standing water on certain areas of the track where hurdles were removed. Ground staff teams sectioned off the areas where the rain water pooled and jockeys were shown a map of the course to aid them in avoiding the most testing points.

None of that ultimately mattered to Facile Vega, who gave his trainer a record-extending 12th victory.

Mullins said: “Facile Vega was very good, he’s shown me at home that he’s always good.

“We were really worried about conditions here today, but he relished it. It was a tough decision by the stewards to do what they did and it was great that they did it quickly and they got the race run.

“That’s what I see every day, this horse just travels when we do work – now you’re seeing what I see.

“He’s a real sort. Gordon thinks a huge amount of American Mike and he just ranged up beside him and went forward when he wanted to.”

The winning rider added: “That was a huge buzz, and coming from Quevega, gives this fellow a huge following.

“For a favourite to win in Cheltenham always creates a bit of atmosphere and I think everyone enjoyed that immensely.

Plenty to celebrate for Patrick Mullins
Plenty to celebrate for Patrick Mullins (David Davies/PA)

“We made no secret we liked this horse. From the start of the season we nominated him.

“I rode him last spring and gave him a squeeze and Willie looked at me stone faced as he thought I’d done a bit too much, but from that long ago he’s been giving us a great feel.

“It was a bit like wacky races. The bumpers are called bumpers for a reason – they’re like bumper cars.

“I didn’t get a fantastic start. They went fast and I was following Paul Townend and he nearly got brought down, which dropped us back.

“Passing the stands I got into a bit of space and I was just cantering everywhere.”

Mullins looking to Facile Vega to confirm star potential

Willie Mullins is confident Facile Vega possesses all the required attributes to provide him with a record 12th victory in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

It is 26 years since the Closutton maestro trained and rode Wither Or Which to victory in a Grade One contest he has since made his own.

He went on to saddle the next two winners in Florida Pearl and Alexander Banquet, while Cousin Vinny (2008), Champagne Fever (2012) and last year’s hero Sir Gerhard are among those to have struck gold since the turn of the century.

Facile Vega, a son of the six-times Festival heroine Quevega, is a red-hot favourite for this year’s renewal, having looked well above average in winning twice at Leopardstown – most recently powering clear of what appeared a strong field at last month’s Dublin Racing Festival.

Mullins earmarked the five-year-old as a potential star from an early stage, saying: “I got him ready last year to run and he did a bit of work one day that said to me ‘wow, this fellow could be special’.

“He got jarred and I left him alone after that. I thought if I could get him back this year to what he was last year I’d be happy, but we trained him with kid gloves as I didn’t want to overstretch him.

“I just hoped he had in the tank what was there last year and we took him to the racetrack and he won nicely, then what he did the last day from the furlong marker was exceptional.”

The horse rated the biggest threat to Facile Vega by bookmakers is American Mike, who has been similarly impressive in his two bumper starts for Gordon Elliott.

Mullins, however, would not swap his charge, adding: “He’s done everything right. I don’t know how his form matches up to American Mike, but from what I’ve seen at home he’s the one I’d want to be riding, anyhow.”

American Mike winning at Down Royal
American Mike winning at Down Royal (Niall Carson/PA)

Houlanbatordechais, James’s Gate, Madmansgame, Redemption Day, Seabank Bistro and Viva Devito complete the formidable Mullins squad.

Elliott has never made any secret of the regard in which he holds American Mike and is anticipating a bold showing in the day two finale.

“We’ve gone the same route that we’ve gone with Envoi Allen, Sir Gerhard and a few of those horses, so we said we’d go that way with him,” said the Cullentra handler.

“He’s in very good form, he looks very strong and we’re happy with him. He’s shown us good signs at home. From Christmas to now, the race has got a lot hotter, the better horses have come out.

“He’s a nice horse and has done nothing wrong.”

Patrick Mullins looking forward to Facile Vega – and American Mike showdown

A Willie Mullins-trained showdown with American Mike in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper is a prospect that is exciting Patrick Mullins.

Mullins junior is set to partner Facile Vega, a son of the brilliant racemare Quevega who has looked spectacular in his two starts so far, most recently at the Dublin Racing Festival, while Redemption Day is another highly-regarded challenger for the Mullins team.

But while Facile Vega is odds-on for the March 16 showpiece, fellow crack amateur Jamie Codd has hardly been able to contain his enthusiasm for the Gordon Elliott-trained American Mike, also unbeaten in his two bumpers.

“Facile Vega obviously has the best track form, but Redemption Day mirrors everything he does at home and I think James’s Gate has a lot of improvement in him so there are plenty of good spares there,” said Mullins, who is assistant to his father.

“I think Willie’s record is usually that the favourite gets beat and one of the other ones comes and beats him! It would be nice to get a third victory in the race as I think Ruby (Walsh) has three so it would be great to equal him.

“It’s going to be an excellent race and Jamie is unusually bullish about American Mike so it will be good to go head-to-head with him up the hill.”

On the pressure of preparing for the Festival, Mullins added: “The Lord Bagenal (local pub) is definitely a huge help and we’re all very thankful that it’s back open!

“My father has been at that pinnacle now for a few years and I think my mother is very good at humouring him and we know when to walk out of the kitchen and when to be in the kitchen, so we’ve all adapted well I think.”

Monday Musings: Conflation

The punters were loving it in the packed grandstands at Leopardstown during the two days of the Dublin Racing Festival as favourite after favourite went in, writes Tony Stafford. A host of Grade 1 races meant a conveyer belt of superb winners, confirming the power of the big stables almost in the manner of the Cold-War style May Day Parades in Moscow’s Red Square.

For armoured tanks and missile launchers read Mullins chasers and hurdlers, Elliott juveniles and handicap chasers not to mention the odd De Bromhead stealth bomber still to taste defeat in 14 faultless sorties.

Honeysuckle and Blackmore; Chacun Pour Soi and Townend; and, most demoralising for all the existing Gold Cup stars, a demolition job by Conflated and Russell in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup, at 18-1 which brought only a temporary respite for the layers on Saturday.

Conflated can certainly describe Mr Ryanair. He has the twin roles of running Ireland’s most visible and visibly competitive airline along with a still massive undertaking with Gigginstown House Stud. The culls in the latter direction have clearly become evident. Only nine in the maroon colours appeared during the two days and 15 races of the Festival, a long way short of the days when the sort of big-money handicap chases and hurdles on offer here would have usually included half a dozen of his representatives in each. Whatever happened to all those caps? JP’s are all different colours to theirs so no taker there!

Gordon Elliott’s suspension last year coupled with the Covid restrictions were a convenient moment conflatedly to confirm Michael O’Leary’s support for Elliott and at the same time accelerate the cull. The horse Conflated, happily for the magnate and his racing manager brother Eddie, ran in the Gold Cup despite Eddie’s view he had no chance.

The relative outsider, although well backed in the lead-up to the race, had far too much speed for last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Minella Indo – showing something of his true self – and the rest. The one coming through late into the Gold Cup field often beats the established stars at Cheltenham. He usually has had fewer hard battles and knocks lingering in the recesses of his consciousness to shrink from on the big day.

We – or at least our trainers – moan about the way the Irish come and pinch our biggest prizes every March, with last year’s almost total oblivion, perhaps, being the final straw. Paul Nicholls seems to err on the cautious side at Cheltenham these days in favour of more serious involvement at Aintree at the Grand National meeting but he did make a challenge for two of this weekend’s big prizes.

Frodon, who had beaten Minella Indo at Down Royal on their joint reappearance back in the autumn – with Galvin splitting the pair – does not have a Cheltenham entry this year. This was his Cheltenham, running in a three-mile rather than three-and-a quarter-mile Gold Cup on Saturday.

The near-veteran put up his usual prominent showing under Bryony Frost, but when the taps were turned on over the second-last they were immediately raising a white flag, coming home a remote last of the seven finishers more than 20 lengths behind Conflated.

Then yesterday, Greaneteen, outpointed last time by Shishkin at Kempton having previously won the Tingle Creek, was utterly rolled over finishing last of five, miles behind Chacun Pour Soi in the Dublin Chase, a Grade 1 extended two-miler.

Those two obviously below-par performances will have been a sobering experience for Nicholls, a man who recently clocked up his domestic century of winners this season, just after Donald McCain and before the upwardly and geographically-mobile Irishman Fergal O’Brien.

More to the point though at a time when complaints about UK prizemoney are unrelentingly put forward by trainers and owners alike, surely it was an indictment of the lack of enterprise here that no other UK trainer – and there are more than 500 of them if you include permit holders – was daring enough to have a shot at the €2,881,500 on offer for the 15 races.

In all, 91 prizes were available over the two days and between them Messrs Mullins and Elliott snaffled 42% of the money – Mullins €702,000 from seven wins, five thirds, five fourths, seven fifths and three sixths; and Elliott almost precisely half a million from three wins, seven second places, two thirds, two fourths, six fifths and one sixth place.

In an almost exact proportion of prizes they collected 41 of the 91 on offer. The usual suspects filled in for the rest with Henry de Bromhead just about keeping his head above water with Honeysuckle’s wide-margin victory in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle.

Understandably Honeysuckle was roared all the way from the winning line to the enclosure by an enraptured crowd finally allowed to give vent on a racecourse to their feelings. For what it’s worth, my view watching from the owners’ room at Kempton – my first time at one of my favourite spots on the circuit for almost two years – was that there were a couple of slightly worrying elements.

She probably got a little lonely out in front and while there was never a proper challenge, it wasn’t as smooth as some of the earlier wins. You have to wonder – well I did anyway – whether she might be getting bored with the whole “I’m miles better than the rest of you” girl-power routine?

Why Kempton, you might ask? Well I was there to watch the comeback of Jonathan Barnett’s Year Of The Dragon – sorry mate, it’s the Year of the Tiger! – after seven months off. A strong-finishing third, while a little short of peak suggests a win next time. February 24 at Newcastle fits William Knight’s penchant for sending his horses to that northern outpost. Fill your boots!

On another fill your boots theme, I had a nice chat with Dermot Weld at the sales at Newmarket on Thursday and he had news of his Chester Cup winner from last year. His Falcon Eight, under Frankie Dettori, took advantage of lenient UK handicapping to win the big staying prize from a mark of 104.

This Thursday he will have his second run over hurdles in a near-three-mile novice event at Thurles and as Dermot said: “When he wins he’ll go to the Albert Bartlett. And by the way, the English trainers were moaning about his handicapping and getting their knickers in a twist but he had been dropped only 4lb!” True enough Dermot, but to be dropped at all after finishing fourth in the Irish St Leger wasn’t exactly harsh treatment by BHA’s finest! We’ll be cheering for you on Thursday though with our vouchers for the potato race at the Festival warming our inside pockets for the next few weeks.

Returning to Leopardstown, surely the most eye-opening performance of the lot was Saturday’s bumper victory of Facile Vega, trained by Willie, ridden by Patrick and the second foal to run of their great champion mare, Quevega. I sort of hinted what I would be doing if I owned a mare of such quality – much as Michael Tabor did in his mating for Refinement that produced Walking On Air - and send her to Derby runner-up Walk in the Park. Suppose it’s easy if you own both the mare and the stallion!

It worked fine for Facile Vega’s workmanlike first run but here he was so dominating in outclassing a field of previous winners that the trainer seems set for a ridiculous 12th success in the Champion Bumper with a horse that is odds-on even before the entries are known.

Last year’s winner of that race, Sir Gerhard, was not the first string when he made it 11 for the maestro that day and, with Rachael Blackmore riding, he overcame hot favourite Kilcruit and Patrick Mullins, who himself had been ultra-impressive in this race twelve months ago.

Yesterday, in the Cheveley Park Stud colours and with only a single defeat – by Kilcruit when they reconvened at Punchestown, the gelding brought his tally to five out of six with an easy win in the Grade 1 novice hurdle. Now we have to wait and see whether another re-match is possible. More pertinently, perhaps, will be which Nicky Henderson star, the afore-mentioned Walking On Air (who would need to be supplemented) or Constitution Hill or Jonbon, he prefers to face before deciding on the Supreme or Ballymore.

The relentless march of the big Irish stables with their ability to identify and then secure with their greater financial power the best prospects is a trend that no end of BHA committees, tough talk from trainers and retaliation from handicappers will arrest any time soon. Major owners increasingly have their horses trained over there as there are meetings like last weekend’s when they can tilt for almost €3 million. Would it were so in England!

- TS

Facile Vega produces ‘wow’ factor in Leopardstown bumper

Willie Mullins has trained some of the best bumper horses in the last 20 years – but few have set the pulse racing quite like Facile Vega, who demolished a high-class field in the Goffs Future Stars Flat Race at Leopardstown.

With €100,000 euro up for grabs the race is worth more than the Cheltenham equivalent and has a rich history with Envoi Allen and Appreciate It recent winners.

By the excellent National Hunt stallion Walk In The Park, who has produced the likes of Douvan, Min and Jonbon, the winner’s dam is Quevega – guided by Mullins to win six times at the Cheltenham Festival.

Stablemate Embassy Gardens ensured there was no hanging around and when Paul Nolan’s well-regarded Sandor Clegane moved up to challenge a real raced looked on.

However, those thoughts were soon put to bed as Patrick Mullins moved up on his outside and breezed on by, pulling clear to win by an eased-down 12 lengths.

Mullins senior said: “He showed one day last year that he was good, but he got sore after it and I just put him away for this year.

“I just didn’t want to work him and I’d say that’s the fastest he’s gone all year.

“Today was the day to find out whether he was as good as I hoped he could be.

“That was a good field of horses and everyone that came up there today would have refused a lot of money for their horses before the race.

“I had huge respect for them and I was lining up in the race thinking I had a good horse, but looking at the other horses in the race and what they had done and what they had won. I thought am I sort of half-mad, but he’s even better than I thought he was.

“He looks like the real deal.”

Asked if he would go to Cheltenham, where he is odds-on with a number of firms, the Clossuton handler added: “That’s where we’ll go with him. I’ll just keep him right now, that’s the whole thing.”

Patrick Mullins said: “That was pretty ‘wow!’

“We went a good gallop and when I turned in and gave him a bit of rein, he lengthened his stride. He is a bit special, I’d say.

“It’s very unusual for good racemares to have very good progeny, but Quevega was always a bit different.”

Mullins assembling formidable Champion Bumper squad

The pecking order of Willie Mullins’ Champion Bumper horses may still yet to be determined, but the Closutton trainer’s battalion is certainly taking its usual formidable shape.

Mullins has won the Cheltenham Champion Bumper a record 11 times since 1996, including the last two renewals with Ferny Hollow and Sir Gerhard.

And with four bumper winners in as many days over the Christmas period, hopes are high that at least three of them will line up in the Weatherbys-sponsored championship event at the Prestbury Park track on Wednesday, March 11.

Progression is anticipated from Facile Vega, who made a winning debut at Leopardstown on Sunday, and both Embassy Gardens and Redemption Day, who did the same on Monday and Tuesday, over the same course and distance.

Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “The Nice Guy (winner on Wednesday) will go jumping. The other three could all be Champion Bumper horses.”

Embassy Gardens, a son of Shantou, is owned by Sean and Bernardine Mulryan and is a general 20-1 chance for the Champion Bumper after his nose success.

“Obviously Embassy Gardens will probably need to improve, but of the three, I think he is the one who will improve the most,” added Mullins.

The Tim O’Driscoll-owned Redemption Day was installed as the 6-1 third-favourite for the Champion Bumper by Paddy Power following his four-and-a-half-length triumph.

Yet arguably the most visually impressive of the Mullins yard’s bumper quartet of winners was Facile Vega, owned by the Hammer & Trowel Syndicate, who ran out an impressive six-length winner.

The son of Walk In The Park is out of six-time Mares’ Hurdle winner Quevega and is the 4-1 second-favourite for Cheltenham with Paddy Power, behind the Gordon Elliott-trained American Mike (11-4).

Mullins said: “Redemption Day is probably the quickest of them and Facile Vega is taller and probably has the most scope of them, so we have all different shapes and sizes.

“There are some tough decisions to make, but it is good position to be in.”