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’.”

Easy Game delivers in Devenish Chase

Easy Game got back on the winning trail with a determined display in the Devenish Chase at Fairyhouse.

The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old had been a little disappointing since landing the PWC Champion Chase at Gowran Park in October – most recently unseating his rider at Thurles in January.

With likely favourite Fakir D’oudairies a significant non-runner, Easy Game was the 11-8 market leader for his latest Grade Two test, with Brian Hayes taking over in the saddle from the sidelined Paul Townend.

Having jumped with zest and travelled powerfully on the heels of the leaders, the French-bred gelding moved to the lead early in the home straight, with Castlegrace Paddy emerging as his biggest threat.

Easy Game returns to the winner's enclosure
Easy Game returns to the winner’s enclosure (Gary Carson/PA)

There was not much to choose between the pair approaching the final obstacle, but it was Easy Game who jumped it the better and that may well have proved crucial, with just three-quarters of a length separating the pair at the line.

Mullins said: “He really appreciated the nicer ground today. Brian said the last day in Thurles he was getting stuck in the ground, but today he was jumping so well and he was really happy with him.

“Brian is a great chase jockey and this was a nice spare for him. He gives horses great confidence.

“The horse looked beaten going to the last, but Brian pulled him together for one jump and it paid off for him.

“I’d imagine he’ll go to Punchestown.”

Paul Townend to have further checks on foot injury after Fairyhouse fall

Paul Townend will see a doctor later this week to determine the extent of a foot injury picked up at Fairyhouse on Sunday.

Townend – who is due to partner second-favourite Burrows Saint in the Randox Grand National at Aintree – was riding Egality Mans for Willie Mullins in the Colm Quinn BMW Novice Hurdle when departing at the third-last, bringing down stablemate Power Of Pause ridden by Bryan Cooper, who escaped injury.

He was taken to Blanchardstown Hospital for precautionary X-rays and missed his mounts on Irish National day.

Rachael Blackmore enjoyed a superb Cheltenham and is hot on the heels of Paul Townend in the jockeys' title race
Rachael Blackmore enjoyed a superb Cheltenham and is hot on the heels of Paul Townend in the jockeys’ title race (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Giving an update on Monday after Stormy Ireland won the Underwriting Exchange Hurdle, in which Townend was replaced by Danny Mullins, Mullins said: “He’s going to have another visit with his doctor during the week.

“We’ll take it bit by bit and see how he goes before we make any further decisions. That’s where we are.”

Townend started the week 10 winners clear (95-85) of Rachael Blackmore in defence of his Irish jump jockeys’ title, with the championship set to conclude with the final day of the Punchestown Festival on May 1.

Jeff Kidder follows up Cheltenham success with Fairyhouse victory

Cheltenham Festival hero Jeff Kidder followed up in the Rathbarry And Glenview Studs Juvenile Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

A winner over the course and distance earlier in the campaign, Noel Meade’s charge was last seen springing an 80-1 surprise in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle in the Cotswolds last month.

Despite that big-race triumph, Jeff Kidder was second-best in the market for this Grade Two contest at 5-1, with the previously unbeaten Teahupoo all the rage as the 4-7 market leader.

It turned into a straight shootout between the two from early in the home straight – and while Teahupoo loomed up looking a big threat, Jeff Kidder already looked to be getting the better of the argument when the odds-on shot produced an untidy leap at the final flight.

Jeff Kidder returns to the Fairyhouse winner's enclosure
Jeff Kidder returns to the Fairyhouse winner’s enclosure (Gary Carson/PA)

In the end Sean Flanagan’s mount prove his Cheltenham success was no fluke with a decisive three-length verdict.

“He’s improving all the time,” said Meade.

“We gave him a little break after he ran in the Grade Two in Leopardstown at Christmas and I was actually worried if I’d left him off too long, but obviously it was perfect. We just let him in and out and let him enjoy himself.

“If he ever learns how to jump the whole lot of them he’ll be grand – he only jumped half of them.

“I’d say he was very weak last year and is starting to get a bit stronger.”

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On future plans, he added: “If he never does any more he’s done a lot, but hopefully he will do more.

“I can’t see any reason why he won’t run in Punchestown now in the Grade One and the plan was to run on the Flat during the summer. Colin (Keane) said to me last year ‘when you get him over two miles, he’ll win a Cesarewitch for you’.

“Off 68 he should be able to win a Flat race somewhere, you’d imagine.”

Stormy Ireland made a successful second debut for Willie Mullins in the Grade Two Underwriting Exchange Hurdle.

The Motivator mare won six times during her first stint with the Closutton handler, before being moved to Paul Nicholls’ yard along with the rest of owner Jared Sullivan’s Irish-based string.

Stormy Ireland wins on her first start for new owners
Stormy Ireland wins on her first start for new owners (Niall Carson/PA)

She failed to win in four starts in Britain, but having since been sold to new owners for £75,000, she was a 7-2 chance on her first start since returning to the Mullins yard.

Sent straight to the lead by the trainer’s nephew Danny Mullins, Stormy Ireland set a sound gallop from flag-fall and had enough in the tank to hold off 85-40 favourite French Dynamite by a length and a quarter.

Mullins said: “She’s getting her style of racing back and I think Danny suited her great.

“She was bought to breed from, but her owners said we’d discuss after a run or two whether we breed from her this year or not and I think we’ll probably keep her to race and maybe breed next year.

“She could go to Punchestown if there’s a race for her – maybe the Mares (Champion Hurdle). We’ll probably go over fences when the new season comes around.

“We were very happy when we got her back – she was in good shape.”

Trainer Karl Thornton and jockey Donagh Meyler combined to land the Farmhouse Foods Novice Handicap Hurdle with 11-2 favourite Shanroe.

“He’ll go back on the Flat now and we’ll target premier handicaps with him,” said Thornton.

“He’s an odd horse, but his work is always very good. I said I’d run him over hurdles today and leave him then coming into the Flat season.

Shanroe won the Easter Monday opener at Fairyhouse
Shanroe won the Easter Monday opener at Fairyhouse (Niall Carson/PA)

“Off 97 I still think he’s well handicapped on the Flat. We’ll target Ascot and a few of those two-mile races.”

The Francis Casey-trained Max Flamingo (4-1) benefited from a well-judged ride from Denis O’Regan when winning the Fairyhouse Steel Handicap Hurdle.

Casey said: “He showed a lot of inexperience there, but it worked out right and he loves the better ground.

“I think he’s going to be a chaser some day and I’d love to be back here next year for a big one.”

Jody McGarvey clinches Grade One double with victory on Janidil

Jody McGarvey enjoyed a dream Easter Sunday as he completed a Grade One double aboard Janidil in the Underwriting Exchange Gold Cup Novice Chase at Fairyhouse.

Having earlier struck aboard Skyace in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final, McGarvey teamed up with Janidil, the outsider of three runners for Willie Mullins in the two-and-a-half-mile contest.

However, Janidil proved by far the best as a 12-1 shot, leading home his stablemates in a clean sweep for the Closutton handler.

Jody McGarvey celebrates after his Grade One double
Jody McGarvey celebrates after his Grade One double (Niall Carson/PA)

Asterion Forlonge was partnered by Patrick Mullins after intended rider Paul Townend suffered a fall earlier on the card, and he was prominent throughout, racing on the heels of pacesetting Conflated with main market rival Andy Dufresne alongside.

The writing was on the wall for that runner some way out though, and it looked as though Asterion Forlonge was going to triumph as he hit the front with three to jump.

However, he found little for pressure approaching the penultimate obstacle, while Janidil was staying on for McGarvey, taking it up after jumping that fence and fairly sprinting home by four and a quarter lengths from the fast-finishing Franco De Port. Asterion Forlonge plugged on for third.

“He took a heavy fall the last day, but he seems to have learned a lot from it,” said McGarvey.

“He has all the scope in the world, but when he gets in he wants a bit of help.

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“I had a good chat with Mark Walsh before and in fairness it paid off. He never missed a beat.

“I was jumping up on their heels everywhere and even turning in I was always happy.

“I jumped two out that well, and I was going well, and I said I’d stay going well. Lucky enough he put it to bed there.

“He never really stays straight that horse (Asterion Forlonge). I was trying to keep away from him. I switched in, and I ended up having to switch out again, but when I jumped past him at the second last, it was over and done with then.

“It’s absolutely unbelievable. Week in and week out when you’re working hard you want to be at these meetings and to ride in these races.

“To go and win two Grade Ones in a day – I’ve only ever ridden one Grade One (winner) in my whole career – and now I’m after riding two in one day, it’s unbelievable.

“Big thanks to Frank (Berry, racing manager) and JP (McManus, owner) for letting me step in to have these rides, I’m just very very grateful. I’m just happy to be here.

“They (opportunities) don’t come along too often and you have to take them with both hands. You don’t know where the next one is going to come from. I’ll make the most of this and keep kicking onward and upwards for the next day.”

McGarvey is looking forward to partnering the Philip Hobbs-trained Jerrysback for McManus in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National on Monday.

“I ride Jerrysback for Philip Hobbs in the National. He looks like he’ll really relish the trip and he has loads of experience,” he said.

“I just hope the ground doesn’t dry out too much, but other than that I’m looking forward to riding him.”

Willie Mullins celebrates with the trophy after Janidil's victory
Willie Mullins celebrates with the trophy after Janidil’s victory (Niall Carson/PA)

Mullins said: “I felt he deserved his chance to come here as he didn’t go to Cheltenham, but I thought it would be tough for him with the horses he was up against.

“He likes this track and won a big handicap hurdle here.

“It’s great for Jody to ride a Grade One double and I’m delighted for all connections.

“He’s a horse we always thought a bit of, but has disappointed a bit on his last few runs. Jody felt that when he got him jumping today, he was in his comfort zone from after halfway.

“I’d be keen to go to Punchestown, although I don’t think we’ll be going for the novice handicap with him!”

Mullins felt Asterion Forlonge might not have enjoyed racing so prominently.

He added: “Asterion Forlonge’s jumping is improving, but I was disappointed that he cut out so tamely. He cut out a lot of the running and maybe we made too much use of him.”

Echoes In Rain impresses with Fairyhouse victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elimay digs deep for Fairyhouse victory

Elimay got back to winning ways for Willie Mullins in the Download The BoyleSports App Mares Chase at Fairyhouse.

Running just 15 days after her ding-dong Cheltenham Festival battle with stablemate Colreevy, in which she came off marginally second best, Elimay landed 8-15 favouritism in gritty fashion.

This Listed race was billed as almost a match with Cheltenham winner Mount Ida, who put up a remarkable display there – having been almost tailed off early before winning the Kim Muir only easily.

However, Denise Foster’s mare was coming back in trip here and was crucially outpaced with three furlongs to run before staying on again close home to finish third.

Elimay took up the running from Abbey Magic at the second last but could not fully shake off 50-1 shot Demi Plie, owned like her by JP McManus.

Mark Walsh had to ride Elimay out strongly after the last and, conceding upwards of 6lb to her rivals, won by a length-and-a-quarter.

“It was hard work, and she might have been feeling the effects of Cheltenham, but she got the job done anyway – so that was nice,” said Mullins.

“We’ll have a look at Punchestown, but I think she’s probably done enough for the season. We’ll see how she comes out of this.

“I just said to Mark there that on drier ground she probably wants three miles.”

Elimay and Mount Ida clash at Fairyhouse

Elimay and Mount Ida are set to engage in an intriguing clash for the Download The BoyleSports App Mares Chase at Fairyhouse.

The Willie Mullins-trained Elimay was considered one of the bankers of the week at last month’s Cheltenham Festival when contesting the inaugural Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase, but came off second-best after a titanic tussle with stablemate Colreevy.

Denise Foster’s Mount Ida, meanwhile, did claim Festival glory – coming from a seemingly impossible position to run out a ready winner of the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup.

Elimay is one of two runners for JP McManus in Saturday’s Listed contest, along with Demi Plie from Padraig Roche’s yard.

The leading owner’s racing manager, Frank Berry, said of Elimay: “She had a tough race in Cheltenham – but Willie seems happy with her, and there is not much else for her for a while, so she takes her chance.

“It looks a competitive race. Mount Ida was very good at the Festival and will take a lot of beating.”

Henry de Bromhead’s pair of Abbey Magic and Zarkareva complete the line-up.

The most valuable race on the opening afternoon of the Easter Festival is the 80,000 euro RYBO Handicap Hurdle.

A 20-strong field is headed by Thosedaysaregone, with Foster’s Eclair De Beaufeu next in the list following his fourth-placed finish in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Mullins has claimed five of the last eight renewals of the lucrative contest and this year saddles five runners in Foveros, Uradel, Ruaille Buaille, Hybery and Robinnia.

The McManus silks are carried by Foster’s Magic Tricks and the Des McDonogh-trained Hearts Are Trumps.

Berry added: “Hearts Are Trumps never runs a bad race and will hopefully run well.

“Magic Tricks is in good form, but lacks a bit of experience.”

McManus also has a leading contender for the 50,000 euro I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Novice Handicap Hurdle Series Final, in Capodanno.

Since arriving from France, the Manduro gelding has run three times for Mullins – winning at Clonmel as well as being placed twice.

“It’s a very competitive race, and three miles is a bit of an unknown,” said Berry.

“Willie thinks he’s in good form, so we’ll see how he goes.”

Capodanno’s rivals include stablemates Fighter Allen and Lady Breffni, top-weight On Eagles Wings and three Foster-trained runners in Dunboyne, Ragnar Lodbrok and Folcano.

Energumene and Latest Exhibition in mix for Fairyhouse

Cheltenham Festival absentees Energumene and Latest Exhibition are among 12 confirmations for the Underwriting Exchange Novice Chase at Fairyhouse.

Having completed a hat-trick of wins over fences with a dominant display in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown in February, the Willie Mullins-trained Energumene appeared all set for a fascinating clash with Shishkin in this month’s Arkle itself.

The seven-year-old disappointingly missed out on an appearance in the Cotswolds after suffering a setback the week beforehand, but compensation may await in Sunday’s two-and-a-half-mile Grade One.

Mullins has also kept in Asterion Forlonge, Franco De Port and Janidil – while Paul Nolan specifically sidestepped Cheltenham with Latest Exhibition to wait for the Easter Festival at Fairyhouse.

However, as well as being confirmed for a race formerly known as the Powers Gold Cup, he also has the option of running in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National on Monday – with a decision on which race he will contest yet to be made.

Nolan said: “We’re just going to give ourselves the option.

“It looks to be a fine week, with a few showers towards the weekend, so I think the ground is going to be beautiful.

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“We have to decide on Friday morning, so we’ll see.”

Latest Exhibition (left) may have avoided Monkfish but Energumene could lie in wait
Latest Exhibition (left) may have avoided Monkfish – but Energumene could lie in wait (PA Wire)

Other contenders for Sunday’s feature event include Denise Foster’s pair of Andy Dufresne and Conflated.

Grade One honours are also up for grabs in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final earlier in the afternoon.

Echoes In Rain, Gauloise and Royal Illusion are part of a seven-strong Mullins squad, with Shark Hanlon’s bargain buy Skyace – fourth in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham – also one of 21 possibles.

Ronan McNally’s stable star Dreal Deal is entered for both of the two Grade Two races on the card – the Paddy Kehoe Suspended Ceilings Novice Hurdle and the Colm Quinn BMW Novice Hurdle.

However, he is not certain to line up in either, having missed the Cheltenham Festival because of aspergillosis – a reaction caused by a form of mould.

McNally said: “He’s not 100 per cent quite yet – but he’s getting there, I think.

“If we go to Fairyhouse he’d have a Grade Two penalty, so I’ll probably aim for Aintree to be honest because it will give us more time as well.

“He’s entered in all the Grade Ones over two miles, two and a half and three. Aintree is sharp enough, so I would be looking at the two-four and three-miler – but I wouldn’t discount the two-miler.

“His form over two miles is very good, so we’ll have a look and see what is the weakest race. There weren’t many runners at Cheltenham in the novice races, and those that ran will have had hard races.

“I think we’ll run in the weakest race if I’m honest.

“It was a shame to miss Cheltenham – but we wouldn’t have beaten Appreciate It, so second would have been the best we could hope for. It might not have done us any harm not going, and it gives us a fighting chance for Aintree.”

McNally has an entry in the Randox Grand National in the shape of Thyestes Chase winner The Jam Man – but he is in a similar situation.

“With The Jam Man, he’s just not quite there yet either,” he said.

“We’ve 12 days. He is coming, but he’s not there yet.”

Ferny Hollow set to miss Punchestown and wait for next season

Ferny Hollow, who in his short career to date has already beaten the subsequent winners of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, is unlikely to make it back in time for the Punchestown Festival.

Trained by Willie Mullins and owned by Cheveley Park Stud, Ferny Hollow accounted for Appreciate It in last season’s Weatherbys Champion Bumper and Bob Olinger in a maiden hurdle at Gowran in November.

He was ruled out of Cheltenham before Christmas, and while connections had mooted the possibility of him making Punchestown it now appears he will not be seen until next season.

Ferny Hollow's form has been franked
Ferny Hollow’s form has been franked (Weatherbys)

Sir Gerhard made it three successive wins for Cheveley Park in the Champion Bumper, with Envoi Allen winning in 2019, and the Cheveley Park’s managing director Chris Richardson said: “The pressure is on for next year now!

“We must thank Weatherbys and everyone at Cheltenham for putting on such a fantastic meeting, even though owners couldn’t be there.

“I think Punchestown will be in the mix (for Sir Gerhard), he’d had a nice break before Cheltenham since winning at Navan.

“It’s a shame Ferny Hollow had his setback, but he’s recovering well. Whether he runs at Punchestown, we’re not quite sure yet, it may be that we’ll put him away and make sure he’s 200 per cent for next season.

“On the basis of his form he’s a very smart horse.”

Mullins said: “The form is looking rock solid now, and Ferny Hollow looks a good sort.

“I know there was talk at one time about him possibly being back for Punchestown, but at the moment we are not thinking about that. We’ll wait for next season.”

Mullins secures top trainer honours despite ‘in and out sort of week’

Willie Mullins pinpointed all-the-way Ryanair Chase victor Allaho as the highlight of his six winners at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.

The Closutton handler once again claimed the top trainer title as Galopin Des Champs won the closing Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, meaning he edged Henry de Bromhead on countback.

However, Mullins was in no doubt that Allaho’s effortless 12-length victory in the Thursday feature provided the crowning moment for this year – with the trainer already turning his thoughts to next year’s Champion Chase over two miles.

Allaho and Rachael Blackmore in full flight
Allaho and Rachael Blackmore in full flight (Michael Steele/PA)

He said: “Allaho stands out a mile, I think.

“After racing yesterday I was thinking he looked like a King George horse, but when I analysed it, I started thinking we should maybe aim for a Champion Chase instead.

“The way he jumps so slick and so fast, I think we could bring him back in trip – and we could try two miles at Punchestown.”

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While Mullins enjoyed plenty of success, he did have disappointments, too, with Chacun Pour Soi only third as a hot favourite in the Champion Chase while another odds-on shot, Concertista, was collared on the line in Tuesday’s Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.

Mullins’ dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo had to settle for third in his attempt at a hat-trick.

Concertista (right) just lost out to Black Tears on Tuesday
Concertista (right) just lost out to Black Tears on Tuesday (Tim Goode/PA)

The trainer said: “We had an in and out sort of week, but it came good in the end.

“I always think 33 per cent of favourites win, so I was thinking we might have four or five winners this week and I was hoping for more.

“To have six winners is great. I suppose Concertista got beat and Chacun Pour Soi got beat. Al Boum ran a cracker, but it wasn’t to be.

“A few of our hotpots got beat, but then some other horses came up, and I think we’ve had seven seconds and five thirds.”

Paul Townend (left) on al Boum Photo congratulates Jack Kennedy on Minella Indo
Paul Townend (left) on al Boum Photo congratulates Jack Kennedy on Minella Indo (Michael Steele/PA)

Mullins was not too disheartened following Al Boum Photo’s eclipse, giving full credit to the De Bromhead-trained pair of Minella Indo and A Plus Tard who dominated the finish.

He said: “I just thought he was beaten by two very good horses.

“Minella Indo likes it here and is a good horse. A Plus Tard is a very good horse as well – he advertised that in Ireland.

“The three of them pulled right away from the field and our fellow is getting a bit older and is probably not as sharp as he was.

“He knocked the third-last and the second-last and those were the jumps that won him the race last year.”

Cheltenham went ahead behind closed doors this year
Cheltenham went ahead behind closed doors this year (Nick Potts/PA)

The Festival was run behind closed doors due to coronavirus restrictions this year and although Mullins admitted the atmosphere was lacking, he hailed Cheltenham’s decision to match up with WellChild and promote the charity across the week.

He added: “It’s obviously been a TV Cheltenham, rather than an atmospheric Cheltenham with crowds, but I think Cheltenham hit it off rightly by teaming up with WellChild, which is a very worthy charity.

“We’re delighted to support them and I’d like to thank all the people that did.”

Cheltenham Festival – The best moments

Another Cheltenham Festival has been and gone, but of course this year’s behind-closed-doors meeting was like no other.

While the lack of a crowd made for an unusual atmosphere, there were the typical spills and thrills on the track, with new stars anointed, old favourites eclipsed, gambles landed and bankers who blew out.

We take a look at the major talking points of the Festival:

Ride of the week

Mount Ida was almost tailed off in the early stages
Mount Ida was almost tailed off in the early stages (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Jack Kennedy’s ride on Mount Ida in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup will be talked about in the same terms as Paul Carberry’s masterpiece on Frenchman’s Creek in 2002 and other great Festival rides. Heavily backed into 3-1 favouritism, her supporters would have been forgiven if they had admitted defeat after four fences as the mare was jumping like she had never seen a fence before and was almost tailed off. Kennedy coaxed her back into contention, though, before she arrived on the bridle on the turn for home and cruised to victory.

Disappointment of the week

Henry de Bromhead on his way to meet Jack Kennedy
Henry de Bromhead on his way to meet Jack Kennedy (David Davies/Jockey Club)
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Perhaps what made Kennedy’s ride on Mount Ida more meritorious was the fact that earlier in the afternoon he had suffered crushing disappointment. For many the banker of the week was Envoi Allen – transferred to Henry de Bromhead’s yard from suspended trainer Gordon Elliott – he arrived at Cheltenham unbeaten and already a dual Festival winner. However, he fell at the fourth but thankfully returned unscathed.

Biggest winning distance of the week

Appreciate It sauntered to victory in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Appreciate It sauntered to victory in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Tim Goode/PA)

The very first race of the meeting, the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, produced the longest winning distance over the four days as Appreciate It sauntered to a 24-length verdict. Trained by Willie Mullins, who was winning the race for the seventh time, he was arguably only the stable’s second-string for this earlier in the season before Ferny Hollow was ruled out. Only eight lined up and main market rival Metier clearly did not run to form, but it was hard not to be impressed by the winner.

What might have been?

Hopefully Ferny Hollow makes Punchestown
Hopefully Ferny Hollow makes Punchestown (Simon Cooper/PA)

Each year countless horses miss the Festival and rob the meeting of anticipated clashes, but many have been asking just how good is Ferny Hollow? Hopefully we might not have to wait too long to find out if he recovered from a mid-season setback to make Punchestown but his form stands up to the closest scrutiny. He beat subsequent Supreme winner and stablemate Appreciate It in the Champion Bumper 12 months ago and on his hurdling debut had none other than Bob Olinger, hugely impressive in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, behind him on his one and only hurdles run.

Changing of the guard

Paisley Park could never quite get on terms with Flooring Porter
Paisley Park could never quite get on terms with Flooring Porter (David Davies/Jockey Club)

The story behind Paisley Park and the willingness of his connections to engage with the media and public over the previous three seasons has made him a huge fan favourite. Having won the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in last-gasp style, he was sent off favourite to reclaim the Stayers’ Hurdle crown he took two years ago. Beaten last year when suffering from a fibrillating heart, he could only manage third this time with no excuses other than not being able to keep up with all-the-way winner Flooring Porter and his best days may now be behind him.

Star of the week

Rachael Blackmore lit up the Festival
Rachael Blackmore lit up the Festival (Michael Steele/PA)

There is no denying racing approached this year’s Festival on the back foot after the furore of last season’s meeting going ahead as the pandemic took hold and in the wake of Elliott’s suspension. However, Rachael Blackmore waged a one-woman PR campaign. She became the first female to win the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday on the unbeaten Honeysuckle, with that win the highlight of six successes which secured the leading rider crown. With Sir Anthony McCoy and Ruby Walsh hailing her as the best jockey currently in the weighing room, her influence on future generations cannot be underestimated.

Stop the contest

The Irish contingent in the Best Mate stand
The Irish contingent in the Best Mate enclosure (Tim Goode/PA)

Had the Prestbury Cup been a boxing match, it would have been stopped by the referee after just two days. Heading into the meeting the Irish looked to hold the upper hand in many of the championship races, but few would have expected a final scoreline of 23 wins to the British-trained five. These things tend to go in cycles, we are told, and there was a time any Irish winner was heralded as great for the meeting. It has now gone full circle and if it were not for Nicky Henderson providing two victors through Shishkin and Chantry House, it would have been more embarrassing still.

Mullins dominates inaugural running of Mares’ Chase

Colreevy outpointed her Willie Mullins-trained stablemate Elimay in a pulsating finish to the inaugural running of the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham.

The two market leaders had the race to themselves at the business end and there was nothing between them over the final obstacles.

Colreevy (9-4), ridden by Paul Townend, gained the upper hand racing up the hill to hold the 6-5 favourite by half a length. Shattered Love was third, two and three-quarter lengths away.

They went a strong gallop from the start with Magic Of Light and Really Super making the early running, but once the tempo increased the race belonged to the Mullins pair who served up a treat in the Grade Two heat over an extended two and a half miles.

Townend said: “She’s very tough and only a novice, but you wouldn’t think that from the way she jumps.

“She was very keen with me early, so I elected to just let her on and attack her jumps and I thought myself and Mark (Walsh, on Elimay) were in a good duel from a long way out.

“It was nip and tuck and I felt rounding the home turn that I still had a life. My worry was that we’d gone at it and something was going to come late at us.

“The drop of rain we had last night definitely helped. She’s a Grade One winner in Ireland as well, so she’s a very valuable mare and where she goes will be up to Willie and the owners.”

Townend was bouncing back after the disappointment of Al Boum Photo in the Gold Cup, where he had to settle for third in his bid to join an elite club as a three-timer winner of the blue riband.

He added: “He wore his heart on his sleeve again. We missed a couple of fences this year, which wasn’t ideal, but he’s gone down fighting.”

Al Boum Photo all set for Gold Cup hat-trick bid

Willie Mullins is confident Al Boum Photo is in the form of his life ahead of his bid to join the titans of the jumping scene with a third victory in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Mullins appeared destined never to win the blue riband after saddling the runner-up on six occasions, but the largely unheralded Al Boum Photo broke his duck in 2019 and repeated the dose 12 months ago.

Just as he has in each of the past two seasons, the nine-year-old will line up in the Cotswolds on the back of a solitary low-key run at Tramore on New Year’s Day – and Mullins is hoping for the same result on the day that matters most

“We think he’s in a good position,” said the Closutton handler.

Al Boum Photo at Willie Mullins' yard
Al Boum Photo at Willie Mullins’ yard (Niall Carson/PA)

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“Any time Paul (Townend) has ridden him work, he’s been happy with him and I’ve been happy with what I’m seeing as well.

“We don’t have any negatives at this point, we didn’t have any setbacks.”

Al Boum Photo is the clear favourite to become only the fifth triple Gold Cup winner after five-times scorer Golden Miller, Cottage Rake, Arkle and Best Mate.

He did not impress everyone during what was a slightly laboured latest effort at Tramore, but Mullins expects considerable improvement.

“I thought I had him straighter,” Mullins admitted.

“He had such a long break from his Gold Cup last year, had no spring campaign as such and it was a long time back around to Tramore.

“He probably should have done one more bit of work beforehand, but we got through it and we learnt from that and I think he’s in great shape going to Cheltenham this season.”

Mullins, who also saddles Irish Gold Cup winner Kemboy, views A Plus Tard and Champ as the biggest threats to his reigning champion.

A Plus Tard denied Kemboy a second Savills Chase win with a last-gasp Leopardstown success over the Christmas period, while Champ warmed up for his Gold Cup tilt by finishing second over two miles in the Game Spirit at Newbury last month.

Mullins said: “I think you have to take both A Plus Tard and Champ seriously – both are stayers.

“A Plus Tard is bred to stay and Champ proved that he stayed all day last year.

“The two have both put in huge performances as their prep run.”

Amazing Allaho rockets to Ryanair glory

Allaho produced a dominant front-running performance under Rachael Blackmore to give Willie Mullins a record fourth success in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.

The Cheveley Park Stud-owned seven-year-old simply ran his rivals into the ground from the off, with Blackmore making her intentions clear from flag-fall in setting a strong pace and putting the rest of the field under pressure.

Min, who won the race last year, tried to match his stablemate but was burned off from three out, where Allaho pulled clear of the opposition.

Victory never looked in doubt as the 3-1 favourite kept going to strike by 12 lengths from Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’oudairies, with Tornado Flyer half a length away in third for the Mullins stable and Amy Murphy’s Kalashnikov a creditable fourth.

Mullins said: “That was an awesome performance. I thought Min would go with him every step of the way but his jumping wasn’t up to scratch, we might have to look at that.

“Allaho did everything right. The first thing I did when Rachael came back was lift the number cloth to see if the lead was still in there as it looked like he was just carrying Rachael!

“He was just awesome, his galloping and jumping, if he puts the two together – I was hoping he could do that over three miles, but if he’s only a two-and-a-half-miler that will do me.

Rachael Blackmore celebrates
Rachael Blackmore celebrates (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“I think aggressive tactics suit him, watching at home he just gallops and jumps.

“I was as gobsmacked as anyone watching it, I fully expected the two of them to collapse at the third-last but that is their style, we just had to hope one would be good enough.

“We might try three miles again, maybe the King George, we’ll see what connections think.”