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Unstoppable Mullins happy to end season on a high

Willie Mullins was planning a moderate celebration on Saturday evening after a superb Punchestown Festival capped another championship-winning season.

Mullins was crowned the leading trainer for the 15th time, banking over €5million in prize money to finish well ahead of the currently-suspended Gordon Elliott in second and Henry de Bromhead in third.

The Closutton handler enjoyed an exceptional week in County Kildare, notching a record 19 victories across the five days with a slew of Grade Ones to boot.

While Mullins was thrilled to break his benchmark at the meeting, he lamented the lack of owners and crowds at the fixture due to current Covid-19 regulations.

Mullins said: “We’ve had a fantastic festival. It’s great to have the support of the owners that we have and without them none of us could keep going at Closutton.

“They are the whole part of the team really with the investment they put in every year.

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“Hopefully we can get owners back and then after that crowds back to inject a lot of atmosphere that is missing at the moment.”

Mullins endured some disappointments at Cheltenham, with the likes of Chacun Pour Soi and Al Boum Photo falling short, but Punchestown firmly reversed those fortunes.

He said: “I was so disappointed with how a lot of them ran in Cheltenham and we changed a few things coming here.

“I said I’d throw the whole lot at it, which we did, and it seems to have paid off.”

Patrick Mullins is champion amateur again
Patrick Mullins is champion amateur again (Niall Carson/PA)

There may have been plenty of champagne moments for Mullins since Tuesday, but a low-key gathering would mark another fruitful campaign.

He added: “Unfortunately it’ll be the usual, around the kitchen table.

“We’ll have a glass of something and I’m looking forward to a few easy days after the season that was in it.”

Champions Jody and Paul Townend
Champions Jody and Paul Townend (Niall Carson/PA)

The Townend family had double reason to celebrate as not only was Mullins’ retained rider Paul Townend confirmed as champion jockey on Friday evening after seeing off the challenge of Rachael Blackmore, but his sister Jody also secured the title of champion lady amateur rider.

Jody Townend was presented with the Mary Hyde Perpetual Cup in a ceremony at Punchestown and they become the first brother and sister to win championship titles in the same season.

Mullins’ son Patrick was crowned leading amateur for the 13th time, with Simon Torrens taking the conditional riders’ title.

Simon Torrens is champion conditional
Simon Torrens is champion conditional (Niall Carson/PA)

JP McManus is the champion owner for the first time in seven years and for the 18th time in all, with the likes of Galway Plate winner Early Doors, Dublin Racing Festival winners Off You Go, Drop The Anchor and A Wave Of The Sea, Leinster National winner Scoir Mear and the Fairyhouse Easter Festival winners Janidil and Hearts Are Trumps helping him to victory.

Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh said: “Many congratulations to all of our National Hunt champions.

“In far from ideal circumstances, this has been a National Hunt season to remember. The outstanding successes at both Cheltenham and Aintree will live long in the memory, however the season featured thrilling performances throughout, showcasing the depth of talent on hand.

“It is a necessary that our major festivals have all taken place behind closed doors, but hopefully as the vaccination programme accelerates, we can look forward to some light at the end of the tunnel.”

Dream return for Klassical with Stayers success

Klassical Dream made light of a long absence as he ran out a hugely impressive winner of the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown.

A ready winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2019, when he also followed up at this meeting, his career hit the buffers last season.

Sent off an odds-on favourite in two Grade One outings, he was beaten in both, most recently in the Matheson Hurdle in December 2019 when last of five.

However, having his first outing for nearly 500 days, there was plenty of market confidence behind Patrick Mullins’ mount which saw him sent off at 5-1 in a strong field.

Patrick Mullins (left) and Klassical Dream celebrate
Patrick Mullins (left) and Klassical Dream celebrate (Brian Lawless/PA)

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The favourite was Cheltenham winner Flooring Porter but he got very worked up down at the start, missed the break, raced keenly throughout and by the second last he was beating a retreat.

French Dynamite was left in front, but all the while Mullins crept closer on Klassical Dream, who cruised to the front on the bridle.

Stablemate James Du Berlais came out of the pack to chase him home, but was beaten nine lengths. Ronald Pump was third.

Willie Mullins with his Stayers Hurdle trophy
Willie Mullins with his Stayers Hurdle trophy (Brian Lawless/PA)

Patrick Mullins said: “I can’t say I’m surprised. He’s a very high-class horse, it just went wrong for him over two miles.

“I know he hadn’t run for a long time, but he was ready to run at Christmas and he got a small setback and then it was too late to go chasing.

“Eilish Byrne deserves great credit as she rides him out all the time and he’s not easy.

“I wasn’t surprised how well he settled, he had a hood on and we went a good gallop. The false start wasn’t ideal, but he handled it all right.”

Mullins, who moved three clear of Jamie Codd in the race to be champion amateur, added: “I’m getting to pick up rides in Grade Ones, I’m in a very lucky position and Jamie doesn’t have that kind of ammunition and firepower.

“When you are riding for Willie Mullins at Punchestown, it makes the job a lot easier.

“I’ve been lucky enough to win the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and now the Stayers here. I was second in the Gold Cup on Djakadam one year, so hopefully I might get the full set at some stage.”

Mullins mentioned the French Champion Hurdle as a possible option for the winner.

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.

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“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)
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“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.”

Livelovelaugh turns Topham into a procession

Livelovelaugh turned the Randox Topham Handicap Chase into a procession for Patrick and Willie Mullins.

Having set off at what seemed a particularly brisk pace in the early stages, Livelovelaugh had burned everything else off crossing the Melling Road.

Mullins had got his mount into a fantastic rhythm, but when the pursuers began to close up as the field raced back on to the racecourse proper, it was a question of how much was going to be left in the tank.

The 11-year-old briefly looked in trouble – but Mullins had saved plenty on the 15-2 shot and put the race to bed approaching the Elbow.

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Livelovelaugh had run in the Grand National itself two years ago and looked a non-stayer in 11th behind Tiger Roll.

Pink Eyed Pedro was second at 33-1, four and a half lengths away, with Senior Citizen third and Snugsborough Hall fourth.

Mullins, who replaced the injured Paul Townend, was emulating his father, who won over the fences aboard the Paddy Mullins-trained Atha Cliath in 1983 Foxhunters.

He steps in for Townend again in the Rich and Susannah Ricci colours on Burrows Saint in the big one on Saturday.

Mullins said: “Incredible. Every jockey wants to win over the Grand National fences. It’s something you’d like to do before you retire. My father did it on Atha Cliath in the Foxhunters’ in 1983. I got some spin there. If I could bottle that I’d take it home.

“It’s great to get one on the board the day before tomorrow. I wanted to get out, get away and over the first four fences near the font rank and get a break before the bend and let him jump and enjoy himself.

Livelovelaugh gave Patrick Mullins a brilliant ride
Livelovelaugh gave Patrick Mullins a brilliant ride (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I hadn’t asked him to go forward. He was just enjoying himself.

“When I jumped the third-last I had a look behind and was surprised how far clear I was. I wanted to get a little breather into him, but not give away my advantage altogether.

“The horse was very brave, but he’s a real example of the Aintree factor.”

He added: “It’s indescribable (to ride a winner over those fences). I feel very sorry for anyone who can’t experience it and I feel so lucky to have experienced it.

“As a kid you’re always watching and there is always a horse here every year that does that. You think ‘what must that feel like’.”

Patrick Mullins delighted with supersub opportunity on Burrows Saint

One man’s loss can be another’s gain – and that is certainly true in the case of Patrick Mullins, who has come in for the plum spare ride on Burrows Saint in the Randox Grand National.

Mullins replaces Irish champion jockey Paul Townend, who picked up a foot injury at Fairyhouse last weekend which also saw him miss Monday’s Irish Grand National.

In the immediate aftermath, Willie Mullins was in no rush to rule Townend out of Aintree – but as each declaration stage passed for Thursday’s and Friday’s cards, hopes faded he would make it back in time.

Instead, the champion trainer has called on his son – who has ridden more winners as an amateur in Ireland than anyone else and if not for his battle with the scales would surely be a professional.

Looking forward to Saturday, Mullins said: “It’s fantastic to pick up the spin on him.

“Obviously Paul hasn’t recovered from the fall he had in Fairyhouse.

Burrows Saint won the Irish National two years ago
Burrows Saint won the Irish National two years ago (PA Wire)

“The weight (10st 13lb) is quite light for me, but it’s just enough.

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“He’s in great form at home. I got a sit on him in Haydock this (Thursday) morning – and he ticks a lot of the boxes.

“He’s the right age as an eight-year-old; he has the right kind of weight and he’s progressive, with only nine runs over fences.

“I’m really excited to be sitting on him.”

With the doubt over Townend and his weight issue, it was a case of Burrows Saint or nothing for Mullins – but he was never counting his chickens, especially after amateurs were ruled out of last month’s Cheltenham Festival because of coronavirus restrictions.

“I’ve lived with Willie long enough to know not to ask any questions and to just wait until declarations,” he said.

“It was in the back of my head that I might get the ride. I saw the weight was doable, and I was watching it from then and got confirmation this morning.

“I did not expect to be able to ride a horse with a live chance in the Grand National. Ever since I was seven or eight and I read a book on the history of the Grand National, this was the race.

“It was disappointing not to be at Cheltenham. As it turned out, I didn’t miss a winner, which made it slightly easier.

“To get a ride in the National more than makes up for that, definitely.

“Some people like the Gold Cup, but this was always the race I wanted to have a crack at – it does not get any better than this.”

No amateur has won the National since Marcus Armytage on Mr Frisk in 1990, but Burrows Saint is second-favourite with some bookmakers based on the fact he won the Irish Grand National two years ago.

“In the National, game plans can go out of the window pretty quickly, but in the Irish National Ruby (Walsh) rode him fairly handy and with a bit of daylight. After that, we’ll see where Lady Luck takes you,” said Mullins.

“I was second on a horse called Boxer George in the Foxhunters (in 2011). That’s the closest I’ve come to a winner over the fences.”

Secret Reprieve missed the cut by two
Secret Reprieve missed the cut by two (David Davies/PA)

Bristol De Mai topped the weights after the final 48-hour stage, which left Evan Williams’ Welsh National winner Secret Reprieve as only second reserve.

“We’ve had a lot worse news regarding horses – we knew there was a c Read more

Bailey sets Two For Gold Topham test

Kim Bailey already has next year’s Grand National in mind for Two For Gold as he gives the eight-year-old a first taste of the famous fences in the Randox Topham Handicap Chase at Aintree.

Two For Gold has had a good second season over fences – beating Aso at Warwick in February before finishing third to Grand National favourite Cloth Cap at Kelso last month, with other big-race hopefuls Definitly Red and Lake View Lad behind him.

“The owners are very keen, as we are, to see him over the National fences,” said Bailey.

“We think he’s going to be a Grand National horse in a year’s time, so this is a good place for him to learn, and we’ll see how he gets on.

“It’ll be an interesting race, as it always is.”

The likely favourite on Friday is the Willie Mullins-trained Livelovelaugh, who will be ridden by the trainer’s son Patrick.

The 11-year-old, who finished 11th in the 2019 Grand National, has been running well in defeat this season – but has not managed to get his head in front in more than three years.

Mullins said: “I was actually angling to try and get Livelovelaugh to go for the Foxhunters’ this year, because he hasn’t won for a few years, but they decided to keep him going in normal racing.

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“He’s been running very consistently. He’s an 11-year-old with 11 stone, so I don’t think the stats say he has as good a chance as the betting does.

“But he jumped fantastically for David Mullins in the National a couple of years ago when he didn’t stay, and the trip will suit and the ground will suit.

“I think he should give me a great spin.”

Willie Mullins also saddles Robin Des Foret, of whom Mullins junior added: “He’s a similar type of horse – he likes good ground, he’s a good jumper and a strong traveller.

“He needed his run back in Clonmel. He’s got plenty of weight, but the race will suit.”

Kauto Riko, last seen finishing fourth in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November, is set to take his chance in the Topham because he is only third reserve for the Grand National on Saturday.

The 10-year-old’s trainer Tom Gretton said: “We were hoping he’d get in the National, but I think we’re struggling.

“He runs best fresh. He ran well at Cheltenham in November, and if he could run like that it would be ideal.

“He was going to run in January at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day and/or Trials Day. They were both lost to the weather, then I didn’t want to run before Cheltenham or Aintree, and we decided on Aintree.

“He had a racecourse gallop and had a school over over Aintree-style fences twice this week.”

Alex Hales has had this race as the objective for Huntsman Son since the start of the season – and was pleased with his run at the Cheltenham Festival when he was sixth in the Paddy Power Plate.

“This has sort of been our plan all year,” said the Northamptonshire trainer.

“We wanted to run him in the Grand Sefton, and the ground went against us.

“I thought he ran very well at Cheltenham. Touch wood, he’s a very good jumper, and I think this race is made for him really.

“He’s got a lovely weight (11st), and I thought he was quite a big price, to be honest.”

The spring is Snugsborough Hall’s time of the year, and Liam Cusack is looking forward to giving the 10-year-old an opportunity over the National fences – with top Irish amateur Derek O’Connor in the saddle.

“He’s in good form, he’s a spring horse and it will be nice ground,” said the County Laois trainer.

“It’s his first time over those fences, but he jumps well.

“We’ve got Derek O’Connor. He’s a top man and has plenty of experience over those fences.

“We’re hoping he runs a nice race and comes back in one piece.”

Blazer leads triple challenge for Mullins in Leinster National

Blazer is one of three runners for Willie Mullins in the BARONERACING.COM Leinster National at Naas on Sunday.

The champion trainer saddled Pairofbrowneyes to land back-to-back runnings of the prestigious handicap chase in 2018 and 2019.

Blazer, one of six JP McManus-owned contenders for this year’s renewal, has not managed to get his head in front since winning at Punchestown in 2017, but assistant trainer Patrick Mullins is hoping he can deliver the big-race victory he has long promised.

He said: “Blazer has always threatened to have a big one in him.

“He finished second to Sharjah in a Galway Hurdle. He’s got a lovely racing weight in the Leinster National on Sunday.

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“He’s definitely going to pop up one day at a big price in one of these types of races, so hopefully it could be this weekend maybe.”

Blazer is joined by a pair of stablemates in Class Conti and and Saturnas, who were last seen finishing third and fourth in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park.

“Class Conti has top-weight, which is going to make life difficult for him,” Mullins added.

“He ran very well in the Thyestes. Hopefully he can get some prize-money again, but with top-weight it’s going to be hard to win.

“Saturnas ran very well in the Thyestes as well. I think he could come forward from that.

“He’s got plenty of weight as well, which again won’t make life easy, but I’d expect him to be in the money, hopefully.”

Denise Foster’s Dounikos, Paul Nolan’s Fitzhenry and Ten Ten from Philip Dempsey’s yard also feature in a 16-strong field.

The preceding BAR ONE RACING Directors Plate Novice Chase sees Foster’s Conflated come up against the Mullins-trained Harrie.

Conflated sets the standard in the Grade Three contest, after finishing a distant third behind star novice Monkfish at Leopardstown last month, while Harrie faces a step up in class following an all-the-way victory at Thurles.

Grade Three honours are also up for grabs in the Bar One Racing “Download Our App” Kingsfurze Novice Hurdle, in which Mullins and McManus team up with Shadow Rider.

Impressive in winning at Limerick over the Christmas period, the seven-year-old was last seen finishing seventh in Grade One company at the Dublin Racing Festival.

“He was disappointing in Leopardstown. We’re dropping back in trip and we know he’ll handle the heavy ground because he won on it in Limerick,” said Patrick Mullins.

“He shows us a lot at home so we’re hoping he can get back on track.”

Shadow Rider’s seven rivals include Keri Brion’s American challenger French Light and Tom Gibney’s recent Navan scorer Alko Rouge.

Patrick Mullins opts against professional move

Leading amateur rider Patrick Mullins will miss this year’s Cheltenham Festival after deciding against turning professional.

Amateur riders have unable to ride under rules in Britain since January due to Covid-19 restrictions – and will not be allowed to return until at least March 29, in line with the Government’s planned resumption of grassroots sports.

Mullins, the most successful amateur of all-time, was expected to have a strong book of rides for his father Willie, including Sharjah in the Unibet Champion Hurdle, Kilcruit in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper and Billaway in the hunter chase.

The four-time Festival-winning rider raised the possibility of taking out a professional licence, but following discussions with the Irish authorities, he has decided to retain his amateur status.

He told the Irish Independent: “I’d have to hold a professional licence for one year and that’s not what I wanted to do. What I wanted to do was ride as a professional until the end of the season and take six months off, which used to be the old rule, in order to come back and be an amateur but they didn’t bite.”

Patrick Mullins contemplating professional move for Cheltenham

Patrick Mullins has not dismissed the prospect of turning professional after amateur riders were ruled out of next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

A ruling was made in January that amateurs would be temporarily prevented from competing under rules because of an ongoing rise in Covid-19 infections in Britain.

The move was made by the racing industry’s Covid-19 steering group, which constantly reviews coronavirus protocols to determine how racing can continue to strengthen its approach.

The group said at the time it had reached its decision because it “is in line with Government restrictions around the definition of elite sport and the associated suspension of grassroots sport”.

The four-day Festival begins on March 16, and in his road map unveiled on Monday for exiting lockdown, Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined a date of March 29 for the resumption of grassroots sport.

Patrick Mullins in action aboard Sharjah
Patrick Mullins in action aboard Sharjah (Niall Carson/PA)

Three races at the Festival are confined to amateurs – the National Hunt Chase, Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase and the St James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase.

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The most successful amateur of all-time, Mullins could have expected to have a strong book of rides for his father Willie Mullins, including Sharjah in the Unibet Champion Hurdle, Kilcruit in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper and Billaway in the hunter chase.

Mullins – who has four Festival winners to his name to date – said: “I’m very disappointed with the news.”

Asked whether he could consider switching to the professional ranks, he added: “I don’t know. I will have to give very serious thought to whether I turn professional or not.”

Derek O’Connor has also ridden four Festival winners and is the most successful Irish point-to-point rider of all-time.

​He said: “I would have hoped to have picked up rides in all the amateur races, and obviously it’s disappointing – but it’s just unfortunate.

Derek O’Connor is a four-time Cheltenham Festival winner
Derek O’Connor is a four-time Cheltenham Festival winner (Nigel French/PA)

“I suppose the most important thing is the Festival going ahead. If this is a small, little help to getting the Festival to go ahead trouble-free, it’s not a big ask.

“I hope we’ll be able to be back for Aintree, which is quite important as well. The hunter chases would be the biggest loss because those are the races that are most associated with amateur riders – the hunter chase in Cheltenham and the hunter chase in Aintree. Hopefully things will have settled down a bit by the time we get round to Aintree.

“I’ll have been going to Cheltenham for 17 or 18 years, but I’ll be sat at home watching it on the television this year. Hopefully the meeting can go ahead trouble-free, and with no bad press, which is very important.”

Fellow Irish rider Jamie Codd numbers 10 Festival winners on his CV, and was set to partner leading Champion Bumper contender Sir Gerhard for Gordon Elliott.

He said: “For us qualified riders in Ireland, and the amateurs in England, it’s a huge blow.

Jamie Codd knows all about winning at Cheltenham
Jamie Codd knows all about winning at Cheltenham (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“Cheltenham is where we really like to be competing and showcasing our status. It’s hugely disappointing, but the UK Government have their decision made and fingers crossed we can all get back for the hunter chase in Aintree.

“We’re in strange times, so we just have to dust ourselves off and there’s a lot of people worse off than us – that’s the way you have to look at it.

“With the restrictions that are in place, I don’t think I’ll be travelling over. We’ll probably sit at home and cheer Gordon’s horses on from there.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve missed Cheltenham and it’s been a very lucky hunting ground for me, but that’s the way it is and we’ll have to put up with it.”

The British point-to-point season has been suspended since January 4, but could resume on March 29.

Peter Wright, who is CEO of the Point-to-Point Authority in Britain, told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast: “Sadly, I think we have to accept the Government position, therefore there will be no amateur riding under rules until (March 29), unless there is a sudden change of heart by Government, but I don’t think that is likely.”

A spokesperson for the British Horseracing Authority said: “We would love to see amateurs able to ride again as soon as possible and will be working with DCMS, as we have throughout the pandemic, to ensure that happens.”

Saint Roi to miss Champion Hurdle

Last season’s County Hurdle winner Saint Roi has been ruled out of the Cheltenham Festival by Willie Mullins.

The six-year-old was Barry Geraghty’s final Festival winner when bolting up in handicap company in March, and went into the summer as one of the leading players for the Champion Hurdle.

His season started well with a win at Tipperary in October – but since being stepped up in class, he has been beaten in the Morgiana Hurdle, the Matheson Hurdle and the Irish Champion.

Mullins said: “Unfortunately he’s out of Cheltenham. Chatting to JP (McManus, owner) the other day we came to the conclusion that we’re not happy with him, and he won’t run at Cheltenham.

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“He just hasn’t gone forward. He’s had one or two little niggles, and I think JP was happy to just let him get over those entirely. Maybe they are the reason – maybe not.”

Mullins still has three Champion Hurdle possibles – Sharjah, who was second last year, the injury-prone Saldier and an intriguing new recruit from France, James Du Berlais. However, Sharjah may need a new jockey, as amateurs are barred from riding in the UK at present.

“I’m happy with him (Sharjah). Maybe the last race just came too soon after Christmas. Patrick (Mullins) has his own way of riding him. The better the ground, the better chance he’d have,” said Mullins

“Things aren’t looking good at the moment, we’ll have to see if the protocols change. It’s looking tough at the moment, anyhow. It will give myself and Gordon (Elliott) and any other trainers with good amateurs a problem, but it will be what it is.

Sharjah and Eilish Byrne on the gallops at Willie Mullins' Closutton yard
Sharjah and Eilish Byrne on the gallops at Willie Mullins’ Closutton yard (Niall Carson/PA)

“Saldier won’t run in the rescheduled Red Mills, where it was close enough. He’s entered in the County Hurdle, but he has been aimed at the Champion Hurdle all year, so we’re pressing every button we can to get him there.”

Of James Du Berlais, who is now in the ownership of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, he added: “He had a very busy season in France last year and was bought as a novice chaser for next season, but it’s a long time to wait.

“I was happy to run him somewhere, but I’m not going to run him in the Stayers’, so we said ‘let’s run in the Champion and have a go’, rather than do nothing the whole spring.

“I think he’s rated 167, so that puts him in with a shot. It will be a true-run race – as it always is.”

Mullins optimistic amateur issue can be resolved before Cheltenham

Willie Mullins remains hopeful his son Patrick will be able to ride at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Amateur jockeys are currently prevented from riding in Britain due to a tightening of coronavirus regulations, as they do not fall under the elite sport banner that enables racing to continue in Britain.

With the Festival not starting until March 16 this year though, Ireland’s champion trainer is optimistic his assistant can still be involved in the saddle.

Patrick Mullins won the Matheson Hurdle at Christmas aboard Sharjah
Patrick Mullins won the Matheson Hurdle at Christmas aboard Sharjah (PA)

“It was another surprise, but we are getting used to those in these pandemic times,” said Mullins on a call to promote this weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival.

“I’m hoping that something can be done because we’ve about eight weeks to go and hopefully the figures on both sides of the Irish Sea will be better and governments will be looking at things differently. That’s the best we could hope for at this stage.”

With his nephew David Mullins recently springing a surprise by announcing his retirement, Patrick would be in line for even more rides than usual.

“Certainly he would be a top member on our team at Cheltenham – he could have half a dozen nice rides, especially with David retiring, it puts him in for a lot more. He’s a top guy to have on your team over there,” said Mullins.

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“We’ve discussed it, but there’s nothing much we can do. Obviously there are talks ongoing. It’s very unfair on the top English amateurs too, like Mr (Sam) Waley-Cohen and Will Biddick. There are some top amateurs there and they look forward to Cheltenham like everyone else.

“I haven’t fully read through the protocol that keeps them out of it because I feel things might shift about in a month or six weeks time, and there might be a chance they can ride at the Festival.

“I’m sure Patrick and the other amateurs will be doing their best and we’ll be trying to help them as well.”

Willie Mullins' team at last year's Cheltenham Festival
Willie Mullins’ team at last year’s Cheltenham Festival (Simon Cooper/PA)

As for how the pandemic might affect his team in other ways, Mullins hopes staffing will not prove an issue.

“I hope it won’t be a smaller team because of everything. We’re making arrangements to have things in place ready to bring our usual team, but until we see what rules and regulations are going to be applied, all we can do is prepare the usual stuff,” he said.

“There are a few headaches. We’re trying to get a team of staff together – we’ve plenty to go, but we’re wondering about getting them back. I have people who work for me in England, so I’m getting them involved as well.

“I’m trying not to get too bogged down in it because the whole scenario could change in a month or six weeks, at least that is what we are hoping anyhow.”

Al Boum Photo was victorious on his New Year's Day return
Al Boum Photo was victorious on his New Year’s Day return (PA)

One horse not running at Leopardstown this weekend is dual Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo, who will head for a racecourse gallop in the coming days.

“Al Boum Photo is in great shape and he’ll do a major bit of work this week because he’s not running,” said Mullins.

“I need to get a good bit into him. My focus is just to get him there, I’m not getting sidetracked about the others.

“I was hoping to take him to Naas, but because of the Covid protocols that wasn’t possible. I have something organised and hopefully it will work out.”

Faugheen could be back at Punchestown
Faugheen could be back at Punchestown (Brian Lawless/PA)

Cheltenham will come too soon for the veteran Faugheen, but Punchestown is still in the mix after a setback earlier this season.

“Faugheen is just OK now, he’s certainly not going to run this weekend or anything, but we’ll try to prepare him for Punchestown. He’s in good shape anyhow.

“The way the season is panning out that will be the option that is left open, all being well,” said Mullins, who also had news of another of Rich and Susannah Ricci’s stars, Benie Des Dieux who was beaten by Honeysuckle last March.

“I’d say it will be straight to Cheltenham with her (Benie Des Dieux). The mares’ chase is a target I’ve had in mind for her, but we’ll see how both races cut up – we might have old business to attend to from last year!”

Sharjah and Mullins land famous hat-trick in Matheson Hurdle

Sharjah and Patrick Mullins made it a fabulous hat-trick when displaying a fantastic turn of foot in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Runner-up in the Champion Hurdle to Epatante in March, Sharjah has not been sent off favourite for any of his wins, remarkably.

Ridden cold by Mullins, he was dropped out right at the rear as Rachael Blackmore attempted to make all on Aspire Tower.

Saint Roi, a Willie Mullins stablemate of the winner, had no excuses on this occasion – but well-positioned by Mark Walsh, his jumping did not stand up to the test in the highest company.

Another Willie Mullins inmate, Saldier – having his first run for more than 400 days – ran well for a long way before dropping away after the last.

But Gordon Elliott’s Abacadabras disappointed and never looked like winning at any stage.

Briefly Blackmore and Aspire Tower looked as if they might have slipped the field, but Sharjah (11-2) arrived on the scene still on the bridle before quickening up to win by two lengths. Petit Mouchoir ran on for third.

Paddy Power cut the winner to 8-1 from 16s to go one better than last season in the Champion Hurdle.

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“He’s some horse and he likes this track. Patrick loves riding him, and the horse responds to him,” said Willie Mullins.

“It can be very hard to ride a horse like that, the way he rides him, but he has great confidence in him.

“For a guy his size and weight, he has huge commitment. He does a lot of other work at home, running the yard as assistant trainer. He might be taking my job shortly!

“I’d imagine Sharjah will come back here for the Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.

“He has a little bit of class about him. He was second last year in the Champion Hurdle, and might have been a little far back then.

“Saldier ran a great race on his comeback. I thought Saint Roi would finish closer – but Mark said he went for his race too early and he’d like to have sat longer.”

Patrick Mullins said: “I just love riding him. He’s so straightforward. It’s easy to ride him like that when you know the turn of foot he has.

“He gives you as much as he can on the bridle, but he is tough off it as well. He just missed the last – but for that, we might have won a shade easier.

“Dave Porter, who looks after him, was trotting him up this morning, checking him, and said he was like Jackie Chan, he was in great form.

“He was keen today, which he usually isn’t. He stayed in for the summer and didn’t get much of a break, but it hasn’t done him any harm.

“I thought we went a strong gallop there but then slowed up turning out of the back.

“My plan was to track Saint Roi because I thought he had plenty of speed and I knew if they slowed up I had plenty of speed too

“Turning in I was thinking ‘we’re not getting to Aspire Tower’ so I had to commit a little earlier than I wanted to.

“A strong-run two miles suits him, because they are coming back at him, and a slow-run two miles suits him as he has such speed. He’s a wonderful horse to ride in these races.

“He doesn’t have huge scope at his hurdles, but he’s very clever. You have to leave him alone, and he’s good at getting in tight.

“He has the odd off day, and that’s maybe why he gets forgotten about sometimes because he’s not hugely consistent.

“On his day he’s as good as any of them. Last year in the Champion Hurdle there was a big field, and we didn’t go a huge gallop.

Sharjah still had ground to make up at the last
Sharjah still had ground to make up at the last (PA Wire)

“In a normal year with a smaller field that might put me four or five lengths closer for nothing. Would that make me win the race? You’d have to believe that.”

On riding another Grade One winner as an amateur, Mullins added: “I just like to justify my place riding those horses, obviously being the son of the boss and being an amateur.

“It’s great today, but I was raging over Melon (third in the Savills) yesterday. I felt that was one I might have left behind me, but I suppose you can’t win them all. I wish I had rolled the dice at the second last rather than playing it safe.”

Saint Roi on course for Leopardstown

Patrick Mullins believes Saint Roi is the currently the leading hope for Champion Hurdle honours based at his father’s Closutton yard.

With Sharjah and Saldier also in the mix among Willie Mullins’ battalion, the amateur jockey is hopeful last year’s County Hurdle winner Saint Roi can make the step up, despite meeting with defeat when slightly unlucky in the Morgiana Hurdle on his most recent run.

Speaking at the launch of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, Mullins junior revealed Saint Roi is one of four potential runners for the team in the Matheson Hurdle on December 29.

“Saint Roi looks the number one at the moment. I know he hasn’t won a Grade One, but he has huge potential,” said the assistant trainer.

“He’s won around Cheltenham and for me, at he moment he could be the Champion Hurdle horse.

“We were very surprised with how keen he ran in Punchestown (in the Morgiana) and he gave Mark (Walsh) an awful time. Because he was so keen, his jumping got sloppy.

“He winged the third last and Mark was left in a situation where he could go forward and risk him doing too much and having his race run before the last, or take him back and hope he could get a run. It just didn’t work out and that happens.

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“Looking at the race you’d like to think he’d be able to reverse the form with Abacadabras, but it’s not always that simple.

“I don’t particularly think he needs a strong pace, for whatever reason he just got fresh on the day.

“David Casey rides him every day at home now and I don’t expect that to be an issue again, to be honest.

“It’s a fascinating race. Obviously Abacadabras won the last day and he’s the one we have to go and get.”

The yard’s other entries include high-class mare Concertista and Sharjah, who Patrick Mullins has steered to win the race in each of the past two seasons.

He added: “Concertista was very impressive the last day, but that was a second season mares race and this is another big step up.

Patrick Mullins (pink) was second to Epatante in the Champion Hurdle on Sharjah
Patrick Mullins (pink) was second to Epatante in the Champion Hurdle on Sharjah (Tim Goode/PA)

“I hope she does run though because Paul (Townend) will probably ride her and that means I’ll get back on Sharjah!

“I think he could be a huge price at around 10-1 as he loves the dry ground there and loves the track.

“He got a little break after Galway. We tried him back on the Flat, but he just doesn’t seem the same horse on the Flat.

“Last season in the Champion Hurdle (at Cheltenham), it was such a big field and we dropped out. In a normal year if there had been seven or eight runners we’d have been five lengths closer.

“Would that have turned the tables with Epatante? – maybe not, but if it was a smaller field this year I wouldn’t mind another crack at her.”

Saldier has been off the track since winning last year’s Morgiana, but there is no doubting his ability.

“Saldier is a very exciting horse. He was probably going to beat Espoir D’Allen in Naas the day he fell as Ruby (Walsh) hadn’t gone for his stick and Mark (Walsh) had,” said Mullins.

“He got a nasty fall there, which put him back, and he’s very fragile.

“We chose not to run him in the Morgiana or Hatton’s Grace as we felt he wasn’t ready enough. You don’t want to be too hard on him at home either, so it’s a balancing act.

“He’s going to be better in March whatever he does at Christmas.”

Exciting Monkfish primed for festive action at Leopardstown

Monkfish is set to be one of the headline acts as Willie Mullins prepares to unleash a formidable bunch of novice chasers over Christmas.

The Rich Ricci-owned six-year-old landed the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March and made the perfect start to his chasing career with victory at Fairyhouse in November, winning in a canter.

He is likely to be seen in the Grade One Neville Hotels Novice Chase on the final day of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival.

Speaking on call to launch the showpiece fixture, which gets under way on December 26, assistant trainer Patrick Mullins said: “He put in a fabulous performance at Fairyhouse.

“He’s a very tall horse and when he came to the yard he was very light so we didn’t get him out until Punchestown in his bumper season. We just couldn’t get him strong and get condition on him.

Monkfish is already a Cheltenham Festival winner
Monkfish is already a Cheltenham Festival winner (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“We ran in a big field and every time there was a gap he backed out of it so we ended up a little bit far back and had to come around. We got beaten by a good horse in Longhouse Poet.

“Then he got beaten first time last season and we were scratching our heads a bit thinking he maybe wasn’t the horse we thought he was, but he just improved every run after that.

“He won his maiden, then won by 20 lengths down in Thurles and we were wondering did the race fall apart.

“In Cheltenham, what I loved about him, was that when it got tight at the last he put his head down and went into the gap – he’s maturing and learning how to race.

“This year we’re having no problem keeping condition on him. He looks great, good and strong.

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“Three miles is obviously no bother to him. We’d be disappointed if he got beaten, but we’ve been disappointed before!”

Blackbow, Energumene and Asterion Forlonge are among the other novice chasers lined up for festive action.

Asterion Forlonge is poised for festive action
Asterion Forlonge is poised for festive action (Niall Carson/PA)

Mullins junior said: “It’s definitely the most depth I can remember us having in the novice chase division.

“Blackbow and Energumene look like they are going to be far superior chasers than they were hurdlers.

“Asterion Forlonge is a Grade One-winning novice hurdler who has now gone over fences.

“We were very disappointed with The Big Getaway (at Navan), but I wouldn’t give up on him just next.

“Janidil is another one that I think will make a superior chaser than hurdler so we’re very excited for the novice chasers.”

The Racing Post Novice Chase is the highlight of the opening day’s action at Leopardstown, and Mullins has nine in the two-mile-one-furlong contest.

Asterion Forlonge is among the big names among the entries, but he could be aimed at the Grade One Faugheen Novice Chase in Limerick on the same day.

Mullins went on: “He was very impressive in Punchestown. He jumps great, he came from Pat Doyle’s and he does a fantastic job with them.

“When he’s jumping down our strip he’s slightly to his right, but nothing terrible. He seemed to jump pretty straight all the way in Punchestown until the last two when he did go right when he was going a stride faster.

“That is going to be something in the back of our minds. He obviously did it quite severely in Cheltenham where you are continually turning down the back straight and nearly always going left. That probably exaggerates it.

“I’d imagine he’ll probably go to Limerick which is right-handed. That’s two and a half miles which is probably more up his street. That would be the most obvious choice for him.

“Energumene was very eyecatching in Gowran. He’s not a horse you would really thought was a two-mile chaser, but Paul (Townend) said it from the first time he schooled him – that the way he jumps he probably can come back in trip and be effective.

“He’s very clever over fences and even though he might not be as quick as some of the other horses, the way he jumps he’s very effective.

“Blackbow was a very good bumper horse, he disappointed over hurdles but seems to be electric over his fences.

“He was an English point-to-pointer, which we’ve had good luck with.

“He likes to get on with it and jumps very fluently.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he or Unexcepted or Energumene ended up as Arkle horses, but they are going to have to step up to Grade One form and prove that they are that level.”

Klassical Dream could return to action at Leopardstown
Klassical Dream could return to action at Leopardstown (Niall Carson/PA)

Mullins also had news of last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Klassical Dream, who has not been seen since finishing last of five in the Matheson Hurdle at the Leopardstown fixture last Christmas.

He said: “We’ve schooled Klassical Dream a few times at home and Paul is very happy with him.

“He seems to respect fences a bit more than he did hurdles. I’m not sure what got into him last year when he just started throwing himself at hurdles in Punchestown and Leopardstown.

“He’ll probably go for a beginners’ chase in Leopardstown.”