Gaillard Du Mesnil got favourite-backers off to a flying start at this year’s Dublin Racing Festival with a clear-cut victory in the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors ’50k Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff’ Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown.
An impressive winner at the track over the Christmas period, the Willie Mullins-trained grey was the 13-8 market leader to successfully step up in distance and class for this two-mile-six-furlong Grade One contest.
Having travelled strongly in midfield for much of the race under Paul Townend, Gaillard Du Mesnil moved into the slipstream of his front-running stablemate Stattler early in the home straight, before taking over on the approach to the final flight.
The five-year-old never looked in danger of being caught from that point – galloping all the way to the line to score by five lengths, with Gentlemansgame pipping Stattler to the runner-up spot.
Betfair cut the winner to 7-2 from 13-2 for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
“That was a nice start,” said Mullins.
“He was very keen and I thought he was going to pay the penalty, but it shows how big an engine he has that he was able to still find more after it looking like Danny (Mullins, on Stattler) had stole the race.
“It was a nice victory in the end and he must be a fair sort to come from that far back in that type of contest.
“The Ballymore would look the race for him at this point. It was a tremendous staying performance in what looked a real quality field.”
Of Stattler, he added: “He was was very good and Danny gave him a well-judged ride from the front.
“That puts him in line for the Albert Bartlett and hopefully Ronnie (Bartlett, owner) can win some of his own money back!”
Gaillard Du Mesnil initiated a four-timer on the card for Mullins, with Chacun Pour Soi and Energumene also claiming Grade One honours before Kilcruit barely came off the bridle in winning the Goffs Future Stars I.N.H. Flat Race.
One of three runners in the Grade Two contest for the champion trainer, Kilcruit was clear first string as the 11-10 favourite following an impressive display at Navan in December.
Ridden confidently throughout, the trainer’s son Patrick Mullins remained motionless as his mount cruised up alongside the pacesetters early in the home straight before pulling 12 lengths clear – confirming himself a major contender for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.
Mullins senior said: “I thought Patrick had picked the wrong one – how wrong was I? I thought Ramillies (finished fifth) put up a very good performance here at Christmas, but Patrick has huge confidence in this horse – and now I can see why.
“My mother bred him, Patrick’s granny. He was particularly pleased to be riding a winner for her.
“It was a superb performance in what was a very good race. I thought he’d be a nice horse, but I didn’t think he had that sort of capability – that was unreal what he produced there.”
Reflecting on the day as a whole, he said: “It’s been fantasy racing. Energumene, Chacun Pour Soi, Gaillard Du Mesnil – any trainer would like to have any of them in his lifetime, I think.
“It’s been a superb day’s racing, and I was hoping we might get a winner or two. Things have worked out really well.”
A Wave Of The Sea led home a one-two for trainer Joseph O’Brien and owner JP McManus in the Matheson Handicap Chase.
Winner of the Grade One Spring Juvenile Hurdle at this meeting last year, 12-1 shot A Wave Of The Sea knuckled down for 5lb claimer Simon Torrens to see off stablemate Top Moon (50-1) by a neck, with 7-2 favourite The Shunter best of the rest in third.
O’Brien said: “It’s nice to get a winner, and I’m delighted to win a big one for JP.
“He’s struggled a little bit in Graded company (over fences), and then when you go into handicaps it’s a different ball game.
“I thought he jumped very well today – probably as good as he’s jumped. That was probably the difference.
“He could easily go to Cheltenham. We’ll see how he comes out of it and see what the handicapper does.”
McManus and Torrens also combined to win the other lucrative handicap on the card, with the Pat Fahy-trained Drop The Anchor (8-1) lunging late to deny Champagne Gold in the 125,000 euro Ladbrokes Hurdle.
Fahy said: “I’m delighted. I was looking at a full parade ring beforehand thinking to myself ‘imagine being the best horse in this with all the big names’, but I won it.
“I thought early in the race he wasn’t winging them all, and he had to be tough. He needs a test at the finish of a race.
“He’s not big but he’s really tough. It took him a while to win, but he needed time to strengthen up.”