Mullins hoping Townend will be back in the saddle at the weekend

Willie Mullins hopes his stable jockey Paul Townend will be fit for action again by the weekend after having to sit out Sunday’s meeting at Punchestown.

Townend also misses Punchestown on Monday and Tuesday’s card at Clonmel.

He sat out the ride on Asterion Forlonge – who departed at the first in the Grade Three Sky Bet Killiney Novice Chase won by Envoi Allen – as he was feeling the effects of a last-flight fall from Youmdor at Fairyhouse 24 hours earlier.

After Mullins had completed a double in his absence at Punchestown, he said: “Paul was sore after his fall yesterday, and I said to him this morning that I’d prefer he’d rest rather than come here today – especially with the first two races being graded ones.

“There are important races coming up, and I’m hoping he’ll be back next weekend. I didn’t put him on anything tomorrow or Tuesday.”

There is then a three-day break before the jumps calendar resumes in Ireland, initially at Navan and then with a Sunday card at Thurles, which hosts two Grade Two chases.

Energumene impressive as he stays unbeaten over fences

The Irish Arkle could be next on the agenda for Energumene after he maintained his unbeaten record over fences with an impressive display at Naas.

Having already won a point-to-point, a bumper and on his sole start over hurdles, the Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old made a smart start to his novice-chasing campaign when registering a wide-margin victory at Gowran Park in November.

The French-bred gelding faced a tougher test in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Novice Chase, with Henry de Bromhead’s high-class performer Captain Guinness among his three rivals, but he ultimately got the job done in fine style.

Sent straight to the lead by Paul Townend, 10-11 favourite Energumene jumped accurately throughout to keep the pressure on those in behind.

Captain Guinness closed the gap rounding the home turn and briefly looked set to make a race of it, but the market leader asserted between the final two fences and pulled clear on the run-in to score by eight and a half lengths.

The winner’s stablemate Blackbow was a long way behind in third.

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Mullins said of the winner: “That was very impressive, and his jumping was a key factor. He’s got a great method to jump.

“I brought him back to two miles to see if he would be as effective. He loves jumping.

“That was very testing going, and (he was) making all his own running. Paul just gave him a breather turning for home, and he’s picked up again. I was very taken with it.

“I’d imagine we will go down the two-mile route now, and the Arkle at Leopardstown would look the place to go.”

Paddy Power cut Energumene to 5-1 from 12-1 for the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham in March, making him their clear second-favourite behind Shishkin.

Mullins went on to double his tally with 9-4 favourite Belle Metal in the Rushe’s Supervalu (Pro/Am) Flat Race, ridden by Jody Townend.

“We will be looking to up her in grade, although the owners may be keen to sell, so she could be in different colours the next day,” the champion trainer added.

Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore were among the winners
Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore were among the winners (PA)

Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore also combined for a double on the card, with the Grade One success of Bob Olinger preceded by the comfortable victory of Epson Du Houx in the Eastcoast Seafood And Gouldings Hardware Handicap Chase.

The 9-4 favourite travelled strongly to the lead in the home straight and passed the post with six and a half lengths in hand.

“We didn’t get our own way in front, and it was a little bit messy like that, but I was impressed with him – and hopefully there are a few more days in him,” said Blackmore.

Amateur rider Harry Swan, son of the multiple champion jockey Charlie Swan, struck gold on his very first ride over hurdles aboard the Timmy Hyde-trained On Eagles Wings.

The 18-year-old, riding his fourth winner overall, steered the 2-1 shot to a two-and-a-half-length verdict from Captain Kangaroo in the I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Maiden Hurdle.

Hyde said: “On his bumper form I thought he had a good chance, but you never know what you are coming up against in these races from the big stables. I was very happy with him.”

Charlie Swan added: “Timmy, myself and Harry have all now won on our first ride over hurdles.”

Joseph O’Brien’s Miss Pernickety justified 4-7 favouritism in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Beginners Chase under JJ Slevin.

Minella Escape impresses with Tramore triumph

Minella Escape looks sure to go on to bigger and better things after making it third time lucky over hurdles at Tramore.

A £100,000 recruit from the Irish point-to-point field, Henry de Bromhead’s charge fell at the final flight when odds-on for his hurdling bow at Punchestown in September, before filling the runner-up spot at Navan a month ago.

With the Willie Mullins-trained French recruit Gorki D’airy all the rage as the 5-4 favourite, Minella Escape was second best in the market for the Goodbye 2020 Hello 2021 Maiden Hurdle at 2-1, but proved seven lengths too strong under Rachael Blackmore.

De Bromhead said: “He was a little bit unlucky the first day. He was off for a bit before Navan and I wonder did that just catch him out.

“I’m delighted to get a winner here. He is a lovely horse, he won his point-to-point well and the way he jumped there, you’d be looking forward to a fence with him in time.”

Despite Gorki D’airy’s defeat, Mullins still enjoyed a double on the card, with the victory of dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo preceded by a winning debut over obstacles for Mr Coldstone in the David Flynn Construction Maiden Hurdle.

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The 8-1 shot did not race beyond seven furlongs in three outings on the Flat for Johnny Murtagh two years ago, but proved he has the stamina for jumping with a near three-length verdict on his return from a lengthy absence under Paul Townend.

“That was a nice performance. Paul said he jumped well and he took a good blow, so he thinks he will improve again. We will just go up in grade with him now,” said Mullins.

“I’m very happy to see him coming off three runs on the Flat over less than seven furlongs to be able to settle back into jump racing. I thought that might be a big ask for him on his first run over hurdles, but he did it well and Paul was very happy with him.

“He looks a nice, strong type and he will probably be a nice dual-purpose horse.”

Shakeytry justified 7-2 favouritism in the Core Bullion Traders Handicap Hurdle for trainer Edward O’Grady and jockey Phillip Enright.

Shakeytry in action at Tramore
Shakeytry in action at Tramore (PA)

O’Grady said: “It was his first run in a long time at Cork the last day and it was natural for him to come on for that. It wasn’t a particularly strong race today and it all seemed to work out well.

“He has very rarely been out of the first four and that is his third win today. The boys in the yard have done a great job with him because he hasn’t got great legs. They deserve great credit.

“Maybe we will go for another hurdle with him now before he goes back over fences.”

Days after his last-gasp victory aboard A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown, jockey Darragh O’Keeffe was once again seen to good effect as he steered Andrew McNamara’s Lessofdnegativity to a narrow victory in the Tramore Medical Clinic Handicap Hurdle.

Robbie McNamara, representing his father, said: “He’s had a little wind operation since his last run. We just rode him a bit different today and gave him more of a chance early. Darragh took his time and gave him a brilliant ride – he is worth his weight in gold.

“He (Lessofdnegativity) is a half-brother to Joe Farrell, who won the Scottish National. He has a good, staying Irish pedigree and chasing will be his game.”

John McConnell’s Itsalonglongroad (7-2) landed the VS Direct No Limits Marketing Rated Novice Chase under 5lb claimer Simon Torrens.

The concluding Tom Carroll Memorial Handicap Chase went to Whoyakodding (14-1), trained by Garrett Ahern and ridden by James O’Sullivan.

Al Boum Photo claims Tramore hat-trick on seasonal bow

All roads lead back to Cheltenham in March for Al Boum Photo after the dual Gold Cup hero registered a third successive victory in the Savills New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore.

The Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old lined up for the extended two-mile-five-furlong contest almost by accident two years ago, after sidestepping the Savills Chase at Leopardstown and subsequently the Irish Gold Cup on account of unsuitably fast ground.

With Al Boum Photo finally ending his trainer’s long wait for a Gold Cup winner in the Cotswolds a couple months later, Mullins followed the same route again last season, and his charge again produced the goods on the biggest stage of all.

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Making his first competitive appearance since his latest triumph in the blue riband last March, Paul Townend’s mount appeared to face a relatively straightforward task, with just four inferior rivals in opposition.

Djingle set a sound gallop from flag-fall, before giving best with a circuit to run, after which last year’s runner-up Acapella Bourgeois and his stable companion Al Boum Photo were the only two that counted.

Townend never looked entirely happy in the saddle aboard the 2-9 favourite, but he took over the lead from his tiring stablemate rounding the home turn and ultimately passed the post 19 with lengths in hand.

Paddy Power make Al Boum Photo the 100-30 favourite from 9-2 to become the first triple Gold Cup winner since Best Mate – and Mullins confirmed his intention to once again head to Prestbury Park without another run.

He said: “It’s a big relief. It was nerve-wracking watching him going around there. The sun was a worry and it probably cost Brahma Bull (unseated rider at second fence).

“He jumped very well and Paul said he was just so idle on his own in the middle of the race, he didn’t even think he was in race. He had to roust him up down the back, but once he got racing he was fine. Lack of company was a bigger worry for Paul than anything else.

“The ground is very, very testing out there. We are happy with his performance, he did what he was asked to do. We just hope now that he comes out of it sound and well and we will plan for the Festival. That’s the first hurdle jumped anyway.

“Halfway around today I was thinking it would have been easier to go to Leopardstown because there would be less focus on him. When you come here, you have to win and you have to win nicely and he did all those things.

“I usually like to do what has worked before and hopefully it will work again. A lot of ours are improving for their first run of the year and I’m expecting him to do the same.”

Bachasson keeps up Mullins’ winning streak

Bachasson rounded off a fantastic end to 2020 for Willie Mullins when completing a New Year’s Eve double for the champion trainer at Punchestown.

The Closutton handler racked up a staggering tally of 16 winners in the space of four days at Leopardstown and Limerick – with Sharjah, Monkfish and Chacun Pour Soi among his six Grade One heroes.

The feature event on the final day of the year was the Punchestown Hurdle, a race Mullins had won in each of the three previous years, including with Bachasson in 2018.

The grey was the 30-100 favourite to repeat the feat in the hands of champion jockey Paul Townend, having made a successful start to his campaign in the Clonmel Oil Chase in mid-November.

Those who took the prohibitive odds can have had few concerns, with Bachasson leading from flag-fall and cruising to a six-and-a-half-length verdict over stablemate Scarpeta.

Mullins said: “I was hoping he’d jump a bit better, but Paul said he was just idle out in front on his own.

“We’ll mix it between hurdles and fences for the rest of the season, and we’ll probably keep him down the country over fences.

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“He’s not a big horse, but it’s the size of the heart that counts and not the size of the horse.”

Mullins had earlier saddled 10-1 shot Stones And Roses to win the Home Of The Placepot Handicap Chase, with Brian Hayes the winning rider this time.

“He’s improving and is a real old-fashioned staying chaser. Extended trips are what he likes, and he jumps for fun,” said Mullins.

“He’ll probably come back here for the Grand National Trial.

“I’m delighted to give Brian a winner. He’s an integral part of our yard for schooling and riding work.”

Longhouse Poet returns to the Punchestown winner's enclosure
Longhouse Poet returns to the Punchestown winner’s enclosure (Alan Magee/PA)

Longhouse Poet opened his account over fences with a determined display in the Join With A 10 Euro Risk Free Bet Beginners Chase.

Placed twice at Grade One level in novice hurdles last season, behind Envoi Allen and Latest Exhibition, the Yeats gelding disappointed on his chasing bow here in October before finishing second and third in successive races at Naas.

Martin Brassil’s charge was a 100-30 chance for his latest assignment under Mark Walsh, and dug deep from the home turn to get the better of a protracted duel with Run Wild Fred by a length and a half.

“He’s a horse that we always thought would need a trip, and he handles the ground. He had the experience from his few runs over fences – and he was fit,” said Brassil.

“He’s not a Grade One horse, so we may look at novice handicaps in the spring over an extended trip.”

Riviere D'Etel in the snow at Punchestown
Riviere D’Etel in the snow at Punchestown (Alan Magee/PA)

French recruit Riviere D’Etel made a successful Irish debut for Gordon Elliott in the Tote Supporting Punchestown 3-Y-O Maiden Hurdle.

Runner-up in a Listed event at Auteuil on her latest competitive appearance in September, the daughter of Martaline comfortably landed prohibitive odds of 8-15 in the hands of Jack Kennedy.

The jockey said: “She’s going to have to step up in class now, but she couldn’t have done any more today.”

Elliott doubled up in the bumper with the Jamie Codd-ridden Humble Glory (9-4).

Jessica Harrington and Sean O’Keeffe combined to land the Tote Supporting Irish Racing Handicap Hurdle with Wingin A Prayer (3-1), while the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Hurdle went to John Morrison’s Danegeld (7-1), ridden by Mike O’Connor.

Al Boum Photo faces four in Tramore hat-trick bid

Al Boum Photo will face four rivals as he bids to win the Savills New Year’s Day Chase for the third year running at Tramore.

Willie Mullins’ dual Gold Cup winner has taken this Grade Three prize over two miles five and a half furlongs on his way to Cheltenham glory for the past two seasons.

He has not been in action since retaining his crown in March, and jockey Paul Townend is looking forward to getting back on board his Gold Cup partner at this familiar staging post.

“I suppose it’s tried and tested now, so why change it? At that time of year you’re guaranteed a bit of safe ground down there,” said Townend.

“It’s worked the last two years, and we’d be hoping it works a third time.

“If it’s working, why change it? He was pulled out of Leopardstown (two seasons ago) because of the ground and he went down to Tramore, and it suited.

“The race was there, and he got his ground. It was fine and it suited me he went to the Gold Cup under the radar.

“There was a little more pressure last year – but it’s working, and please God it will come off again.”

Among the opposition is Acapella Bourgeois, who was the six-length runner-up to his stable companion in this race last winter.

Mullins has a third string in Brahma Bull – while John Queally’s Djingle and I’m A Game Changer, from Andrew McNamara’s stable, complete the quintet.

Monkfish just too strong for Latest Exhibition again

Monkfish again outdid his old rival Latest Exhibition in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown.

There was very little between the pair when Monkfish just prevailed in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, and they dominated the finish in this Grade One too.

Paul Nolan’s Latest Exhibition arrived on the back of a slightly disappointing defeat in Grade Two company last time out, having won on his chasing debut, but he did have the benefit of one extra run over fences.

Monkfish took over the running just after halfway for Paul Townend – and just as he had on his chasing bow, jumped with aplomb.

However, while at one stage it looked like he may just pull further clear, Bryan Cooper moved Latest Exhibition up alongside him on the run to the second last.

There was nothing between them as they raced at full pelt around the final bend and approached the last fence – and both met it on a decent stride.

After the last Monkfish (1-2 favourite) just had a bit more speed, though, and Willie Mullins’ giant pulled three lengths clear as the champion trainer registered yet another notable Christmas success.

The winner was trimmed to 15-8 from 11-4 for the three-mile Grade One at Cheltenham in March.

“It was a very good performance from a horse having his second run over fences, to take on more experienced rivals at a Grade One track. I was very pleased with that,” said Mullins.

“It didn’t seem to be a problem – even when he was meeting one wrong, he shortened himself. He seems to be a natural over fences.

“There was a lot of pressure on him going to the last, with Latest Exhibition -who has a bit more experience than him. He pulled himself together, fought his way over it, and he just had a little bit in reserve.

“I’d imagine we’ll look at the Flogas Chase. We’ll focus on that first – and if all goes well we can look at Cheltenham after that.”

Concertista takes centre stage

Concertista confirmed her superiority over Minella Melody with another smooth win in the Advent Insurance Irish EBF Mares Hurdle at Leopardstown.

A winner at Cheltenham in March, she was a smooth scorer on her return to action and after her latest win looks sure to take plenty of beating is she travels back to the Cotswolds in the spring.

Dropped in off the pace by Paul Townend as Rachael Blackmore set a stiff tempo on Minella Melody, the 4-5 favourite made ground easily before coming away to win by six and a half lengths and continue Willie Mullins’ domination of the meeting.

Betfair cut her to 3-1 for the Mares’ Hurdle in March.

“She was very good,” said Mullins.

“It was a searching pace. We thought Mary Frances would go on, but Rachael went ahead. That suited our other mare My Sister Sarah.

“Paul elected to drop in, and I thought he might be a little too far out of it turning into the back straight. The pace up front got her back into the race. She was very brave and very good to do what she did there today.

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“I’d imagine the Mares’ Hurdle is the target. She’d look nicely positioned for that race.

“We’ll come back here first for the Dublin Racing Festival. She’s improving all the time.”

Stattler jumps the last in front
Stattler jumps the last in front (PA Wire)

Stattler was another winner for Mullins and Townend when fending off stablemate Glens Of Antrim in the Maiden Hurdle.

Successful on his racecourse debut last season, he had failed to win in three outings since – but the form of his maiden hurdle effort was boosted by the winner, who subsequently went close in graded company.

Townend appeared to have everything under control before Mark Walsh arrived with his challenge on Glens Of Antrim – but the 13-8 favourite had enough left to win by three lengths.

“He’s a galloper and a chaser in the making,” said Townend.

“He handled that trip in a maiden, and I’d say he can always step up in trip. He improved from his first run.”

Midnight Maestro’s win in the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Chase may not register with an especially wide audience, but it is a race jockey Tom Kelly will never forget.

Not only was it his first winner under Rules, but he had never even ridden one in a point-to-point either.

Winning trainer Enda Bolger said: “That was nice. I was a small bit worried when they took out the last fence, because he’s a great jumper.

“That’s Tom’s first winner, and I’m delighted for him. He’s been working for us for the last year. He’s well able to do the light weights, so he’ll get his chances.

“This horse will probably end up going down the cross-country route as well.”

None of Gordon Elliott’s big guns fired over the four days, but he did win the closing bumper with Hollow Games (1-2 favourite).

Winning jockey Jamie Codd said: “This is a very good horse. He’s a lovely staying prospect, and it was nice to get that done today.

“He’s still a big green horse, he’s 16-3, and he’s going to improve again.

“He’s a really nice addition for (owners) Noel and Valerie (Moran) and he’s going to be good.

“He’s a staying horse for the future. When you’re able to do that, win two bumpers, you’re more than likely going to end up being a good horse.”

Mesnil strikes Leopardstown gold for in-form Mullins

Willie Mullins’ domination of the Leopardstown Christmas meeting continued on Monday as Gaillard Du Mesnil initiated a four-timer in the Maiden Hurdle.

Beaten by Henry de Bromhead’s Holymacapony on his Irish debut, the French import looked in a different league on this occasion.

In what appeared a strong contest, the 11-8 favourite was on a tight rein throughout for Paul Townend and bounded almost 10 lengths clear of Mr Incredible.

He was cut to 16-1 from 40s for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle by Betfair.

“I was very impressed with him. The jump he put in at the second last showed how much he had in the tank,” said Mullins.

“He looks like a nice middle-distance horse and we’ll probably stay at that sort of trip with him.

“As he gets more racing I think he’ll settle better, he was a little keen with Paul. He wasn’t stopping at the end and was finishing out the race well.

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“He’s a horse that will go up in grade easily enough, I think.

“I suppose we’ll look at the Dublin Racing Festival. It depends what we do with Appreciate It, as we’ll probably try to keep them apart.”

Mullins and Townend then won the Pertemps Qualifier with 16-1 shot Dandy Mag.

Dandy Mag (9) comes to join The Bosses Oscar at the last
Dandy Mag (9) comes to join The Bosses Oscar at the last (Niall Carson/PA)

Townend had plenty to do turning into the straight with at least 10 still in front of him, but Dandy Mag picked up in fine style to see off The Bosses Oscar to win by a length.

“It was a fantastic ride by Paul, who timed it perfectly,” said Mullins.

“He was off for a long time before his run at Naas. The ease in the ground and trip were a huge help to him today.

“I’m hoping that gives him his ticket now to run in the final. We haven’t had many runners in it and hopefully he goes there with a reasonable chance.”

Owners Joe and Marie Donnelly followed up a Kempton double on Sunday – which was headlined by Shishkin – as they saw their colours carried to victory twice more after Gaillard Du Mesnil.

The giant The Big Getaway clears the last on his way to victory
The giant The Big Getaway clears the last on his way to victory (Niall Carson/PA)

The Big Getaway, who ran so well behind Envoi Allen at Cheltenham in March, put a disappointing chasing debut behind him.

Sent off the 4-5 favourite in the Ballymaloe Foods Beginners Chase, he made every yard of the running for Townend, and his jumping got better the quicker he went.

“It was nice to get that out of the way and he jumped well,” said Mullins.

“We’ll look for a winners of one, but the way the program is, he’ll probably have to go up in grade now, maybe back here at the Dublin Racing Festival.

“The Flogas Chase could be an option for him.”

Ramillies won the closing bumper hard held
Ramillies won the closing bumper hard held (Niall Carson/PA)

Patrick Mullins then donned the Donnelly silks in the closing Midland Legal Solicitors INH Flat Race on the long-absent Ramillies (15-8 favourite).

An English point-to-point winner, he was a beaten favourite on his debut for the yard at this meeting 12 months ago, but did not need to come out of second gear this time.

“He’s a very nice horse. He did what I was hoping he’d do last year,” said Mullins.

“He looks top drawer and I’d imagine we’ll look to come back here for the Festival. The Grade Two bumper there would have to be the target.”

Castlebawn defies top weight for Leopardstown glory

Top-weight Castlebawn West made virtually every yard of the running in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown.

A promising third on his seasonal reappearance and handicap debut at Punchestown last month, the Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old was a 13-2 chance for another fiercely-competitive renewal of this 150,000 euros contest.

With 22 runners going to post, Castlebawn West was initially settled in behind the pacesetters before taking over the running after jumping the first few fences under Paul Townend.

From that point he never saw another rival, with some prodigious leaps keeping the pressure on his many rivals in behind.

Minella Times, one of several runners for leading owner JP McManus, emerged as the biggest threat from the home turn, but Castlebawn West never looked in serious danger of being caught and had four and a half lengths in hand at the line.

Mullins and Townend were completing a treble on the card following the earlier Grade One victories of Chacun Pour Soi and Appreciate It.

“That was a huge performance. He was so slick jumping in front, he was getting breathers and as Paul said, the better he jumped the more confidence he got,” said Mullins

“He’d been working very well at home, but it’s hard to go into a big handicap like that with top-weight thinking he could win.

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“We’ll be looking at the Aintree National or the Irish National after that. He’s probably going to handicap himself out of the Thyestes.

“He’s not a huge horse, but has great scope and a great technique (for jumping).”

The champion trainer was denied a four-timer in cruel circumstances, with 4-11 favourite Reality Cheque looking set to run out an impressive winner of the bumper before suffering a fatal injury in the closing stages.

His demise left Ballycairn (13-2) to claim victory under Jamie Codd, who said: “It’s not the way you would want to win any race, but unfortunately that’s racing and that’s life. We were running a big race.”

French Aseel was a brilliant winner of the opening Paddy Power ‘Only 4 More Days Until 2021’ 3-Y-O Maiden Hurdle.

Ellmarie Holden’s French recruit was the 7-2 favourite in the hands of Denis O’Regan and barely came off the bridle, passing the post 22 lengths clear of Dermot Weld’s Coltor.

Paul Holden, owner and father of the trainer, said: “We bought him in Arqana (for 62,000 euros) in July. He won over a mile in France.

“We were just waiting to get him right for a juvenile hurdle. We knew he had ability and he also handled soft ground in France.

“He showed plenty of class there and we’ll probably look at a Graded race next.”

Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore combined to claim top honours in the Paddy Power Games ‘Don’t Think You’re Special’ Beginners Chase with January Jets.

Always to the fore, the 7-2 chance already looked the likely winner when his nearest pursuer Jungle Junction came to grief at the final fence, leaving January Jets to score by 15 lengths from Soviet Pimpernel.

“He jumped well, probably a little bit right, but Rachael was happy with him,” said De Bromhead.

“He’s progressing with every run. We always hoped he’d be a better chaser than a hurdler and it’s lovely to win today.

“We’ll aim for the good novices in the spring.”

Master McShee was a 5-1 winner of the Paddy Power “Maybe I Like The Misery” Handicap Hurdle.

Paddy Corkery’s charge had chased home Appreciate It on his hurdling debut at Cork last month before going one better at the same track three weeks ago.

With Appreciate It bolting up earlier in the day, Master McShee looked to have strong claims on his handicap debut and came home five lengths clear under Ian Power.

Corkery said: “It’s brilliant to be able to bring a horse here with a chance and to win is unreal.

“Ian has given him a peach of a ride each day he’s rode him. He’s a horse with a lot of ability.

“I wouldn’t rule out going to Cheltenham, but it’s not the be-all and end-all this year. If he’s still in one piece next year, he’ll probably be a better horse over fences and we might go then.”

Appreciate It powers home in Future Champions contest

Appreciate It provided Willie Mullins with a sixth victory in the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown.

The six-year-old won twice in the bumper sphere at Leopardstown last season before filling the runner-up spot behind his currently sidelined stable companion Ferny Hollow in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Having made a successful start to his hurdling career at Cork last month, Appreciate It was the 7-4 favourite stepping up to Grade One level and could hardly have been more impressive in the hands of Paul Townend.

After tracking the pacesetting Fire Attack for much of the two-mile journey, the six-year-old took the lead early in the home straight and powered clear after the dolled off final flight – passing the post nine lengths clear of Irascible, with Keskonrisk third.

Gordon Elliott’s Royal Bond winner Ballyadam was ultimately a shade disappointing in fourth.

Mullins said “He surprised me and impressed me. I was wondering if he was a two-and-a-half-mile horse or a two-mile horse. I know he can easily do it over two and a half, but to come back to two miles and put in a performance like that in a Grade One was impressive.

“I’d say we will go down the two-mile route now. He’s not flashy like Ferny Hollow, but he has a great cruising speed and he covers a lot of ground, which helps him to burn other horses off.

“He’ll probably have another run here at the Dublin Racing Festival.”

Following the champion trainer’s comments, Paddy Power make Appreciate It their 11-4 favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham (from 14-1), while easing him to 8-1 from 6-1 for the longer Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

Chacun Pour Soi impresses with Leopardstown verdict

Chacun Pour Soi produced a dominant display to rout his rivals in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown.

Odds-on backers had their fingers burnt when the Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old was beaten by A Plus Tard in the same race last season, but he bounced back to get the better of stable companion Min over the course and distance at the Dublin Racing Festival back in February.

He was then a late withdrawal from the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March after suffering a stone bruise on the morning of the race.

But having made a smooth return in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork three weeks ago, Chacun Pour Soi was a 4-7 shot to follow up in the feature event on day two of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival – and ultimately got the job done with relative ease.

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After initially taking a lead from stable companion Annamix, Chacun Pour Soi hit the front racing down the back straight under Paul Townend, with Rachael Blackmore covering the move aboard Notebook.

However, it was clear from before the home turn that the market leader had far more to give and he galloped all the way up the straight for a six-and-a-half-length verdict.

Paddy Power cut Chacun Pour Soi to 7-4 from 11-4 for the Champion Chase, with Coral going 6-4 from 5-2.

Chacun Pour Soi (right) proved too good for his Leopardstown rivals
Chacun Pour Soi (right) proved too good for his Leopardstown rivals (PA)

Mullins said: “I was really pleased with that. He showed a great spring in his jumping and really attacked his fences. After the last fence, he flew around the final bend and was then idling a bit. His ears were pricked and I’d say he’d plenty in reserve.

“He’ll probably come back here for the Dublin Racing Festival. I hadn’t intended going to Mallow (Cork) with him until I saw what we had left in the John Durkan. It was a good opportunity to go to Mallow and it worked out perfectly and left him just right for today.

“It was frustrating what happened to him at Cheltenham, but these things happen with horses every day.

“We had to pull Klassical Dream out of the beginners’ chase today. I’m hoping it’s just a muscle problem and nothing too serious.”

Asterion Forlonge ‘sets the standard’ in Limerick feature

Asterion Forlonge heads a three-strong Willie Mullins team into battle in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Faugheen Novice Chase at Limerick on Saturday.

The Closutton handler has saddled five of the last 10 winners of the Grade One contest, with Faugheen himself raising the roof when getting the better of Samcro 12 months ago.

Asterion Forlonge appears the stable’s first string this time around. The Grade One-winning hurdler impressed on his chasing debut at Punchestown last month and champion jockey Paul Townend takes the mount in preference to riding at Leopardstown.

Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “Right-handed over two and a half miles on soft ground should be right up Asterion Forlonge’s alley.

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“He won a Grade One over hurdles last season and he sets the standard without doubt.

“Paul thought he was the best of ours on St Stephen’s Day.”

Asterion Forlonge is joined by a pair of stablemates in Janidil and Colreevy, both of whom are one from one over fences.

“Janidil is a horse I have a lot of time for. He has to show he’s a Grade One horse, but I think this trip on this ground will suit him and his physique is far more suited to fencing than hurdling, so I don’t think Asterion will have it all his own way,” Mullins added.

“Colreevy is a Grade One-winning bumper mare. She was very impressive on her chasing debut at Fairyhouse and I would think there’ll be very few mares that will beat her over fences. It will be interesting to see where she fits in with the geldings.”

Pencilfulloflead represents Gordon Elliott
Pencilfulloflead represents Gordon Elliott (Niall Carson/PA)

The biggest threat to the Mullins trio appears to be the Gordon Elliott-trained Pencilfulloflead, who was last seen beating the high-class Latest Exhibition in the Florida Pearl Novice Chase.

“I’m delighted with how he has taken to fences. He wasn’t a good jumper of hurdles, but he has much more respect for his fences and I thought he jumped very nicely at Punchestown last time,” Elliott told Betfair.

“He has to come back in trip a little bit, but he’s horse with a touch of class and he’s not just an out-and-out stayer, so I’m not too worried about the trip and we know from his runs at Punchestown and Galway this season that he goes well on heavy ground.

“He’s going to need to produce another big performance here, but I think he is capable of doing so. I’m expecting him to go close.”

Joseph O’Brien’s outsider Assemble, who chased home Elliott’s superstar novice Envoi Allen in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse on his latest outing, completes the field.

Asterion Forlonge takes Grade One challenge at Limerick

Asterion Forlonge is one of three runners for Willie Mullins in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Faugheen Novice Chase at Limerick on Saturday.

The Closutton handler has saddled five of the last 10 winners of the Grade One contest, with Faugheen himself bringing the house down when getting the better of Samcro 12 months ago.

Asterion Forlonge appears the stable’s first string this time around, with champion jockey Paul Townend travelling to Limerick for the ride.

The Grade One-winning hurdler impressed on his chasing debut at Punchestown last month and is favourite to follow up.

Mullins also saddles the JP McManus-owned Janidil and the only mare in the field in Colreevy.

Gordon Elliott’s Pencilfulloflead and Assemble from Joseph O’Brien’s yard complete the line-up.

The feature event on day two of Limerick’s Christmas meeting is the Grade Two Lyons Of Limerick Jaguar Land Rover Novice Hurdle, a race that has Faugheen, Penhill and Fury Road among those on the roll of honour.

Elliott fires a twin assault, with Farouk D’alene and Ragnar Lodbrok both declared. That pair are two of three representatives for Gigginstown House Stud along with Henry de Bromhead’s Baptism Of Fire.

Previous course winners Costalotmore and Carrolls Cottage are also in contention for what promises to be an attritional affair run over the best part of three miles.

Gauloise puts down Cheltenham marker with Thurles success

Gauloise maintained her unbeaten record with victory in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Boreen Belle Mares Novice Hurdle at Thurles.

The French bumper winner made an impressive Irish debut for Willie Mullins over the course and distance last month and was the 4-5 favourite on her return to County Tipperary for this Listed event.

Having travelled strongly in the hands of champion jockey Paul Townend, Gauloise hit the front between the final two flights and was always doing enough after the last to hold Mighty Blue at bay by three lengths.

The winner carries the colours of owner Kenny Alexander, whose star mare Honeysuckle won this race two years ago.

Mullins said of Gauloise: “At home she has looked like she improved and she has shown me that at the track. Her jumping was good enough, too.

“I think she is going to improve again and the minimum trip is no problem to her.

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“Paul said she took off with him after the second-last and he wasn’t expecting that sort of response. He thinks she had to show stamina to stay after opening up her lead so all in all, it’s looking good for her.”

Paddy Power cut Gauloise to 6-1 from 10-1 for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Mullins added: “I imagine she might have one more run before Cheltenham, but she looks like she is good enough to go up in grade; her next run will hopefully copper-fasten that.”

Escaria Ten also obliged for favourite-backers in the opening Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase.

Jack Kennedy and Gordon Elliott are a formidable combination
Jack Kennedy and Gordon Elliott are a formidable combination (PA)

Gordon Elliott’s 6-5 shot cruised to a 20-length success under Jack Kennedy, who said afterwards: “He put in a great round of jumping and he is a nice horse. Hopefully he can keep progressing from that.

“He ran well in Fairyhouse the last day over two-five and the step up to three miles today really suited him.”

Elliott and Kennedy doubled up with Frontal Assault (2-1 favourite) in the Horse & Jockey Hotel Rated Novice Hurdle.

Kennedy added: “He is a big galloper and stays all day, but is just lairy enough when he is in front. When something came to him he pulled it out again.”

Donagh Meyler steered Eoin Doyle’s 14-1 shot Key Commander to a victory in the Molony Cup Handicap Chase, before the Joseph O’Brien-trained Jack Dillinger (6-1) recorded a narrow win over Scheu Time in the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Chase under Oakley Brown.

O’Brien’s assistant, Brendan Powell, said: “It is nice to get his head in front again. He was a very decent hurdler and he obviously likes this place as his first run this year was when he finished second here.

“He jumped good and kept at it well. It was Oakley’s third ride back from injury after he broke his wrist in a fall in October – it’s nice for him and it’s his second winner over fences.”

Paul O’Flynn and Darragh O’Keeffe combined to land the Handicap Hurdle with 7-2 market leader West Cork Wildway.

“I shouldn’t have run him the last day in Mallow as the ground was too good for him, but you live and learn and it was nice to get another win up before Christmas,” said O’Flynn.

“He is not the biggest horse, but is unbelievable to jump and I’ll be looking forward to him when he jumps a fence. When he goes over fences you’ll see the real deal.”