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Royal Rendezvous delivers on Plate promise

Royal Rendezvous improved on last year’s second place to take top honours in the Tote Galway Plate on day three of the Ballybrit festival.

Beaten three-quarters of a length in 2020, jockey Paul Townend kept the faith – picking Royal Rendezvous from trainer Willie Mullins’ six contenders in the richly-endowed prize over an extended two miles and six furlongs.

Sent off the 5-1 favourite, Royal Rendezvous was prominent throughout with Townend opting to take it up from Samcro at an early stage and he had a clear lead jumping the last fence before the long run for home.

Stablemate Easy Game emerged from the pack to make a race of it, but Royal Rendezvous held on by a length, with Modus taking third and The Shunter back in fourth.

Townend and Mullins were winning the race for the second time following the success of Blazing Tempo 10 years ago.

Royal Rendezvous edged out Easy Game
Royal Rendezvous edged out Easy Game (Niall Carson/PA)

Mullins said: “Coming home from here last year we said we’d make this the plan if things worked out.

“The horse seemed to come into tremendous form the last three weeks, I was really pleased with him. He just looked a picture the last three weeks at home and we were just counting down the days, hoping we might get a bit of luck. It all worked out.

“I thought he got away in the right position, and then I wondered was he going too free – but he was jumping fantastically.

“Paul might have been a little worried he was getting too free, and he just got racing again with a circuit to run. I was a little worried was he doing too much too soon.

“But his jumping kept him in the game and he had enough in reserve. He had 7lb more this year, but he’s improving – he’s a late developer, I think.

“At one stage I didn’t think he would stay this sort of trip, (but) the way he races now I think we could even go further with him.

“I’d imagine he’d want to go up in grade.”

Annie G jumps the last at Galway
Annie G jumps the last at Galway (Niall Carson/PA)

Annie G (7-2) ran out a convincing victor in the Listed Tote+ Placepot Pays More Novice Hurdle.

Trained by Henry de Bromhead and ridden by Darragh O’Keeffe, Annie G was in control from some way out in the extended two-mile heat and while Surprise Package tried to launch a late challenge after the last, the winner had plenty in reserve to repel that rival by eight lengths.

De Bromhead said: “She was really good and is a lovely mare who is progressing all the time. Darragh was really good on her, I didn’t think he was going fast enough early on and next thing they were all struggling behind her – he was brilliant on her.

“She doesn’t have to go from the front, but it suits us in a novice hurdle. Today she didn’t jump so well and was a bit disappointing (jumping-wise), and Darragh said she was on her wrong lead all the time. We had a suspicion she was better left-handed than right-handed but we got away with it and there are plenty of nice left-handed tracks.

“She has a full novice hurdle season ahead of her and her brother (Westerner Point) was a good chaser. She is a really exciting mare and fair play to the lads, they have been very patient.”

Nodoubtaboutthat (right) won the opener
Nodoubtaboutthat (right) won the opener (Niall Carson/PA)

Nodoubtabouthat (12-1) was a poignant winner of the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Handicap Hurdle in the hands of 7lb claimer Joseph Kelly.

Trainer Shane Crawley explained: “The (Who What Why) syndicate (winning owners) aren’t here today as one of the members, Michael Griffin, buried his mother Mae this morning.

“They saw her work last week and said ‘let her run, it’ll be all for luck’ so it was a very special win and it’s an emotional day for all of them. Michael is from Dublin and it is a Dublin syndicate.”

He added: “She had great form this season and was unlucky at times. I was stuck for a rider and Garry Cribbin (jockeys’ agent) said this lad could ride and is great value for 7lb.

“She came out of her Cork run really well and it worked out. I’ve only ever had one runner at the Festival and that’s my first winner. We bought her for €5,000 and didn’t think we’d be coming here winning!”

Desir Du Large on his way to Galway glory
Desir Du Large on his way to Galway glory (Niall Carson/PA)

Desir Du Large raced awkwardly in the closing stages but still came out on top in the Tote+ At tote.ie Galway Races Maiden Hurdle.

He had run well in a couple of Grade Two heats last season and made the most of a drop in class to open his account for trainer Joseph O’Brien and Shane Fitzgerald, who is another to claim 7lb.

O’Brien said: “He had goodish winter form and we thought if he could take that here he’d run very well. He won well, but got a bit lonely and Shane gave him a good ride and is good value for his 7lb claim.

“We’ll see what mark he gets and he’ll either go for a novice or handicap next. He’ll go chasing eventually and could even go now, but we’ll see what Michael and Eddie (O’Leary) want to do.”

Samcro has weighty task in Galway Plate

Samcro will have to defy top weight if he is to win the tote Galway Plate.

The nine-year-old is a dual Cheltenham Festival winner, but consistency has not been his strong point over the last two years.

Winner of a Grade Three at Killarney in May, he failed to back that up at Listowel next time out.

Samcro’s weight will be eased slightly on Wednesday – because he will be ridden by Jordan Gainford, who can claim 5lb.

His trainer Denise Foster also runs Battleoverdoyen.

Willie Mullins is well represented in the famous handicap by Easy Game (Bryan Cooper), Brahma Bull (Jack Foley), Royal Rendezvous (Paul Townend), Annamix (Patrick Mullins), Livelovelaugh (Sean O’Keeffe) and Koshari (Brian Hayes).

Owner JP McManus has five runners – Emmet Mullins’ versatile eight-year-old The Shunter, Joseph O’Brien’s Darasso and Top Moon, Off You Go, now in the care of Cathal Byrnes, and Enda Bolger’s Modus, formerly trained by Paul Nicholls.

McManus also has two of the three reserves, A Wave Of The Sea and Everlastingpromise.

The last horse to make the current cut in the field of 22 was Henry de Bromhead’s Somptueux. De Bromhead also runs Visioman.

Patrick Mullins chasing Galway glory on first day of the Festival

Patrick Mullins gets another opportunity to finally break his duck in the prestigious Connacht Hotel Handicap on the opening day of the Galway Festival.

The most successful amateur jockey in the history of jump racing, Mullins is no stranger to big-race success, with his excellent CV including four winners at the Cheltenham Festival and multiple Grade One victories aboard equine superstars like Douvan, Faugheen and Un De Sceaux.

The 31-year-old has also won two of the last three Galway Hurdles on Sharjah (2018) and Aramon (2020), but victory in Monday evening’s 100,000 euro feature – one of the most renowned amateur races in the Irish calendar – has so far proved elusive.

Mullins said: “I think this is my 15th go at it!

“I suppose this race and the Champion Bumper in Punchestown are the two main amateur races of the year in Ireland. Willie (Mullins) won it once way back and Ruby (Walsh) won it once, so hopefully we can join them.”

Mullins junior will partner Hook Up in this year’s renewal. The Rich and Susannah Ricci-owned mare certainly appears to hold strong claims, having been placed at Grade One level over hurdles and run just three times on the Flat.

“I think only two winners in the last 20 years have carried more than 11 stone, so it’s a race for the light weights,” Mullins added.

“Hook Up is carrying 11st 1lb, which is kind of my minimum and puts her just above the right kind of weight bracket.

“She’s unexposed on the Flat and is not the most natural jumper, so I think she’s entitled to be a little bit better on the Flat than she is over hurdles.

“We’ve got a nice draw (stall eight) and we’re very happy with her at home, so she ticks plenty of boxes at the moment.”

Hook Up is just one of six contenders for the Mullins team.

Aubrey McMahon, who has already won the two-mile contest twice aboard the Mullins-trained pair of Whiskey Sour (2017) and Uradel (2018), will partner recent Curragh scorer Foveros, who is part-owned by the rider’s father Luke McMahon.

Jody Townend, who steered Great White Shark to victory two years ago, partners previous course winner Exchange Rate, with Royal Illusion (Tom Hamilton), Runrized (Elliot Ohgren) and My Sister Sarah (Jamie Codd) completing the Closutton sextet.

Mullins said: “I think Exchange Rate could be the one. I won on him at the Festival in 2017, he’s run very well off a mark of 89 in the past and he’s running off 82 on Monday with Jody Townend claiming 5lb. He could be very well-in.

“Aubrey McMahon is one of the few jockeys to have won it twice and maybe Foveros, with a nice light weight, could give him the hat-trick.”

Mullins and Moore again the perfect combination at Royal Ascot

Ryan Moore teamed up with Willie Mullins to win the Queen Alexandra Stakes yet again – this time with Stratum.

Following on from the victories of Simenon in 2012 and Pique Sous in 2014, Ireland’s champion National Hunt trainer yet again called upon the services of Moore and he delivered on the 4-1 shot.

Stratum had been placed in the 2018 Ascot Stakes as well as winning the 2019 Cesarewitch, and looked well suited by the conditions of the race.

Stratum still looked to have a fair bit of ground to make up when Richard Hughes’ Calling The Wind hit the front, seemingly travelling best.

However, once Moore gets down into the drive position there are few – if any – who do it better, and Stratum came with a run from which he was not to be denied.

He ended up pulling three and a quarter lengths clear and was a ready winner in the end. The Grand Visir was third, while the pace-setting Stag Horn was fourth.

Mullins said: “It’s just a huge advantage having Ryan riding horses for you and I’m delighted.

“I thought Paul Roche had the horse looking in superb order and he subsequently told me he won the best turned out. I’ve never seen the horse look as well and he ran liked he looked.

“Even though the ground wouldn’t have suited him he probably handled it better than most horses.”

Chacun Pour Soi crowned best chaser as ratings reflect Irish domination

Chacun Pour Soi has been crowned the best chaser trained in Britain or Ireland in the 2020/21 Anglo-Irish Jumps Classification.

The Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old won four of his five starts during a tremendous campaign, his only defeat coming when third in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

He bounced back to winning ways in the William Hill Champion Chase at Punchestown the following month, a performance which earned him a mark of 176 and saw him end the season as the highest-rated chaser in training.

Second on the list is Henry de Bromhead’s WellChild Gold Cup hero Minella Indo, who is only a pound behind Chacun Pour Soi on 175.

The eight-year-old got the better of stablemate A Plus Tard (172) in the blue riband, with Al Boum Photo (170) finishing third in his bid for a historic third consecutive Gold Cup victory.

Allaho earned himself a rating of 174 with a brilliant display in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, while the Paul Nicholls-trained Clan Des Obeaux is the highest-rated British-based horse after being given a mark of 172 for his thrilling Punchestown Gold Cup triumph.

Martin Greenwood, BHA Steeplechase Team Leader, said: “With Irish domination a running theme throughout the 2020/21 season, it is no surprise that they head nearly every division in the latest Anglo-Irish list, limited to performances rated 150 and above for the first time.

“Chacun Pour Soi is narrowly rated the top chaser on 176, with stable companion Allaho rated 2lb lower on 174 – topping the middle-distance division – and Minella Indo splitting the pair, while finishing in pole position in the staying category. Aintree and Punchestown winner Clan des Obeaux is the only British-trained horse to feature in the 170s.”

Andrew Shaw, Senior Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board National Hunt handicapper, said: “There was a clean sweep for Irish‐trained horses in all three steeplechase categories.

“Allaho put in a spectacular display of jumping when powering his way to victory in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham. Minella Indo produced the best staying performance of the season in the Gold Cup, and Chacun Pour Soi’s electrifying display in the Champion Chase at Punchestown sees him top the overall chase division.”

Shishkin and Energumene lead the way in the novice-chase division, both earning marks of 169 during campaigns full of promise.

Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin was undefeated in five starts in his first season over fences, culminating with victories in the Arkle at Cheltenham and the Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree.

Shishkin enjoyed a flawless campaign
Shishkin enjoyed a flawless campaign (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The Mullins-trained Energumene missed Cheltenham, but won the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown and a Grade One at Punchestown.

Greenwood added: “There are plenty of potential superstars in the novice ranks, topped by Energumene and Shishkin in the two-mile division, the pair both rated 169 and both unbeaten, the only disappointment being that they did not get the chance to race against each other.

“Three horses in the longer-distance divisions are the next best, all rated 163. Royale Pagaille finished the season on a low note after finishing lame in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and both Envoi Allen and Monkfish blotted their copybooks at Punchestown.”

Champion Hurdle heroine Honeysuckle leads the way over hurdles with a rating of 165, a pound clear of a trio of fellow Irish-trained starts on 164 – Sharjah, Stayers’ Hurdle winner Flooring Porter and Klassical Dream.

Honeysuckle after winning the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham
Honeysuckle after winning the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham (David Davies/Jockey Club)

The leading novice hurdlers were wide-margin Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Appreciate It (160) and the brilliant Bob Olinger (159), who dominated his rivals in the Ballymore at Cheltenham, while Monmiral (153) rates as the season’s best juvenile following success at Aintree.

Shaw said: “Honeysuckle was the standout hurdler of the season in an unbeaten campaign which resulted in four Grade One victories from as many starts, with the highlight being her scintillating display in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, earning her the season’s highest mark of 165.

“Her rate of improvement over the past couple of years would indicate that there is every chance she could better that figure next season.”

Easy for Grangeclare West on bumper debut at Punchestown.

Expensive recruit Grangeclare West breezed to victory on his debut under rules in the Ladbrokes (Pro/Am) INH Flat Race at Punchestown.

The five-year-old was bought by Cheveley Park Stud for £430,000 in December after winning on his point-to-point bow at Lingstown the previous month, initially joining Gordon Elliott before switching to Willie Mullins’ care.

Partnered by Jody Townend in this extended two-mile affair, Grangeclare West was sent off the 2-11 favourite and assumed control from the off, with his rider taking a glance over both shoulders turning for home.

She let out another notch in the reins in the straight and Grangeclare West lengthened nicely, cruising home by nine lengths from Salvadore Ziggy to complete a treble for Mullins in the process.

Townend stepped in for the ride as Patrick Mullins is currently serving a two-day whip ban, and she was thrilled to team up with the Presenting gelding.

She said: “He’s a gorgeous horse and a complete gent.

“He was idling in front down the back and is still quite green. I’d say he would have been even more impressive if he had something to race with him.

“I have to make hay while the sun shines when Paddy is not around!”

The Mullins team had got off the mark with Sapphire Lady in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Chase.

Last seen when unplaced in a Grade Three event at Cork in December, the 6-5 favourite made short work of her rivals in winning by six lengths in the hands of Danny Mullins.

The winning rider said: “That was a nice performance off a lay-off on that slow ground. She jumps well and hopefully she can build more on that.

“She’d have no problem going into handicaps the way she jumped there.

“The ground is a bit dead because it’s drying, but I don’t think it’s as deep as we were expecting it to be. It’s lovely jumping ground – you’d run a winter horse on it.”

Mullins also teamed up with his trainer uncle to claim the Ladbrokes Committed To Safer Gambling Hurdle with Bleu Berry (9-4).

Stablemate Bapaume was sent off the 6-5 favourite, but it was the Mullins-ridden Bleu Berry who emerged victorious over Snow Falcon, recording his first win since the 2018 Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.

The 10-year-old returned from a 780-day absence when unplaced at the Punchestown Festival at the start of May, but the jockey felt that run had primed his mount for this test.

He added: “It was a nice performance. We were a bit wrong at the weight, but a Coral Cup winner in the past – he’s always a class horse.

“He benefitted from the run here at the festival. He didn’t run too bad that day for a first run back.

“He was a bit fresh early but got his head down when it mattered.”

Joseph O’Brien was also a multiple winner on the day, saddling the winner in both divisions of the Ladbrokes Home Of The Odds Boost Maiden Hurdle.

The Mark Walsh-ridden Persia (5-4 favourite) took the first division, with Banbridge (2-1 favourite) landing the second division under JJ Slevin.

Royal Ascot could be the next port of call for Arcadian Sunset (11-4 favourite) after he finished with a flourish for a six-length verdict in the Ladbrokes “Play 1-2-Free” On Football Handicap Hurdle.

Winning trainer John Queally said: “He has a bit of Flat speed and is rated 89 on the Flat. He’ll probably get a good hike for that and it might get him into a Galway Hurdle.

“We’ll mix it and will enter him in the two-and-a-half-mile Ascot Stakes. It is two weeks away, but he didn’t take too much out of himself today.

“He’s a fun horse and my wife (Miriam) owns him which is even better!”

Envoi Allen surgery is successful

Connections of Envoi Allen are looking forward to the future after the star chaser underwent surgery this week.

Unbeaten in his first 11 starts under rules, the Cheveley Park Stud-owned gelding met with defeat for the first time when falling as he sought a third win at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Hopes were high he could bounce back to his brilliant best for a much-anticipated clash with Monkfish in Punchestown’s Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase last month.

However, Henry de Bromhead’s charge was struggling a long way from home before eventually being pulled up by Rachael Blackmore, while Monkfish failed to reel in his stablemate Colreevy.

Envoi Allen was found to be lame post-race, and a subsequent CT scan at Fethard Equine Hospital revealed he had chipped a joint.

“Surgery was performed successfully, and the vets seem very happy,” said Cheveley Park’s managing director Chris Richardson.

“He obviously suffered the injury when standing miles off one of those early fences at Punchestown.

“It took a while for the swelling to go down. But surgery has now been performed, and he can now have a nice holiday and hopefully come back later in the year.”

Classic Getaway emerged as another exciting addition to Cheveley Park’s National Hunt string when making a successful debut under rules in a bumper at Tipperary on Tuesday.

The five-year-old, who cost an eye-watering £570,000 after winning his sole start in the point-to-point field, pulled 15 lengths clear on his first start for Willie and Patrick Mullins – and will now enjoy a summer break.

Richardson added: “He’s such a good-looking horse with a lovely classic head and lovely long ears.

“Patrick was very happy with him. He gave him a nice introduction, and we can look forward to next season.

“He didn’t really know what to do in the final stages of the race, and I’m sure he’ll learn a lot from that.”

Classic Getaway after his Tipperary win
Classic Getaway after his Tipperary win (PA)

The same trainer-owner combination is set to unleash another expensive recruit at Punchestown on Saturday, with £430,000 purchase Grangeclare West lining up for the Ladbrokes (Pro/Am) INH Flat Race.

Richardson said: “I don’t think he’s in the same league as Classic Getaway – but he’s a nice horse, and we’ll learn a bit more.

“We’re spoilt with the really good horses that we’ve got at the moment. Hopefully he’s another one to look forward to.

“We’ll get a run into him, and then put him away.”

Classic Getaway makes winning start for new connections

Expensive purchase Classic Getaway made a successful debut under rules in the concluding bumper at Tipperary on Tuesday.

Having impressed on his sole start in the point-to-point field in November, the five-year-old was bought for the eye-watering sum of £570,000 the following month by leading bloodstock agent Tom Malone and trainer Gordon Elliott.

With owners Cheveley Park Stud removing all their horses in Elliott’s care in early March, Classic Getaway joined Willie Mullins and was unsurprisingly all the rage on his first start for the champion trainer in the Junction INH Flat Race.

Ridden by champion amateur Patrick Mullins, the imposing gelding travelled well for much of the two-and-a-half-mile contest before easing clear early in the home straight.

The 4-9 favourite looked green when asked to go about his business, but was ultimately in a different league to his rivals – passing the post with 15 lengths in hand over 40-1 shot Bolintlea.

The winning rider said: “He is a beautiful-looking horse, and I think he was a little bit more expensive than a Rolls Royce Phantom! But I’m pretty sure Mrs (Patricia) Thompson (owner of Cheveley Park) will get more fun out of him than a Rolls Royce.

“He’s a big baby and that’s why I was keen to teach him and get him to stride out. He is a big baby at home for a five-year-old who had a point to point run and he’s not a bumper horse.

“I imagine he’ll go jumping later in the season – he wouldn’t have run, only the ground was so wet and we said we’d get a run into him.

“Willie didn’t rush him and let him settle in. He didn’t have to run this season, but it just happened with the weather.

“I think he’ll continue to improve mentally.”

True Self team eyeing more international targets

Willie Mullins’ globetrotting mare True Self is likely to be on her travels again later in the year having enjoyed a rare run at home on Sunday.

The eight-year-old arguably put up her best performance in Europe to date when a fast-finishing third to Helvic Dream in the Tattersalls Gold Cup.

Prior to that she had won a valuable prize in Saudi Arabia and also a second Queen Elizabeth Stakes in Australia.

Terry Henderson, chief executive officer for part-owners OTI Racing, mooted a trip to America before a possible Cox Plate challenge.

“She’s a remarkable mare. She’ll arrive back over here in Australia as a nine-year-old and she just seems to be getting better with age,” Henderson told Racing Pulse.

“We’ll most likely take her to a race in America like the Arlington Million (now run as the Mister D Stakes) and then we will come across here for the spring, where she may be more aimed at the Cox Plate.

“So, hopefully, those lovely people at Moonee Valley might send her an invitation.”

Horses from overseas now face stringent checks before being allowed to compete in Australia, but Henderson said it would not affect plans for True Self.

“We’ve got no reason to change what we normally do. If we can’t get past the Racing Victoria regulations with her (True Self), we’d simply go to the Breeders Cup in America and she’d be a very good bet in that 2000-metre mares’ race,” he said.

“However, she’s a very sound mare and we have no reason to suggest that she won’t pass Racing Victoria’s regulations.”

Faugheen’s magnificent seven

News of Faugheen’s retirement comes as a shock to nobody, but it should not be forgotten just how good he was in his pomp. Here, we select seven of the Willie Mullins-trained star’s greatest successes in the colours of Rich and Susannah Ricci:

Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, Cheltenham 2014

Faugheen on his way to winning the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle
Faugheen on his way to winning the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (David Davies/PA)

Faugheen brought a tall reputation to his first Festival and did not disappoint, powering clear of the opposition after the third-last flight to justify his short price and capture the first of nine Grade One races over hurdles.

Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham 2015

Faugheen jumps the final flight on his way to victory in the 2015 Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham
Faugheen jumps the final flight on his way to victory in the 2015 Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham (Nick Potts/PA)

Given an enterprising ride by Ruby Walsh, Faugheen led all the way to show he was the best hurdler around with a dominating display. His length-and-a-half verdict over Arctic Fire did not do him justice and he stretched that to eight at the Punchestown Festival.

Christmas Hurdle, Kempton 2015

Faugheen with connections after landing the Christmas Hudle at Kempton
Faugheen with connections after landing the Christmas Hudle at Kempton (Andrew Matthews/PA)

After suffering a shock defeat to fellow Mullins inmate Nichols Canyon in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown, Faugheen hit back with a typically brilliant performance, beating The New One by seven length.

Morgiana Hurdle, Punchestown 2017

The long-absent Faugheen was magnificent in the 2017 Morgiana Hurdle
The long-absent Faugheen was magnificent in the 2017 Morgiana Hurdle (Brian Lawless/PA)

Faugheen had been off for 665 days when he finally got back to the course – but you would not have guessed as he did just what was expected of him against three rivals at odds of 4-11, coming home 16 lengths clear of Jezki.

Champion Stayers Hurdle, Punchestown 2018

Jockey David Mullins gives the thumbs up after guiding Faugheen to success in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown
Jockey David Mullins gives the thumbs up after guiding Faugheen to success in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown (Brian Lawless/PA)

Stepped up to three miles for the first time since winning at the trip in December 2013, Faugheen showed he still retained plenty of ability as he made all the running to lower the colours of his stablemate Penhill, who had taken the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham the previous month.

Naas Oil Beginners Chase, Punchestown

Faugheen in the winner's enclosure after his debut chasing win at Punchestown
Faugheen in the winner’s enclosure after his debut chasing win at Punchestown

Faugheen began his chasing career at the age of 11 with his share of doubters, and those who believed he perhaps should already have been retired after a famous career over hurdles. He had to overcome a bad early mistake to win by almost eight lengths at Punchestown – and a month later he duly added to his remarkable Grade One catalogue with success on his second start over fences at Limerick on Boxing Day. It was touted as a head-to-head with Gordon Elliott’s Samcro – who was sent off odds-on favourite – but it was not close as Patrick Mullins surged 10 lengths clear at the line.

Flogas Novice Chase, Leopardstown 2020

Faugheen, jockey Paul Townend and groom John Codd celebrate after his Flogas Novice Chase victory at the Dublin Racing Festival
Faugheen, jockey Paul Townend and groom John Codd celebrate after his Flogas Novice Chase victory at the Dublin Racing Festival (PA Wire)

On to the Dublin Racing Festival, and Faugheen proved peerless under Paul Townend – seeing off stablemates Easy Game and Tornado Flyer by half a length and six lengths, as joint-favourite Battleoverdoyen weakened before falling at the last. A hero’s reception erupted en route to the winner’s enclosure.

Faugheen, Douvan and Benie Des Dieux all retired

Owner Rich Ricci has announced the retirement of three of of his equine superstars in Faugheen, Douvan and Benie Des Dieux.

Faugheen in particular will go down as one of the most popular National Hunt horses of the modern era, with the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and back-to-back victories in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton featuring on a glittering CV.

It looked as though his racing career could be over in the spring of 2019 after he was found to be suffering from a heart problem when pulling up in the Aintree Hurdle.

But the decision to embark on a career over fences the following season at the age of 11 proved a masterstroke by trainer Willie Mullins, with Faugheen winning his first three chase starts including a memorable Grade One success at last year’s Dublin Racing Festival.

He was beaten just a length into third place when bidding for a third Cheltenham Festival success in a pulsating renewal of the Marsh Novices’ Chase in March of last year – and while connections attempted to get him back, that proved to be his final outing.

Ricci, who owns Faugheen in partnership with his wife Susannah, told The Sun: “Faugheen meant a lot to Susannah, our son George and me. He was also the favourite horse of my nephew Peter and was the impetus of his falling in love with the sport.

“Not always the most elegant at a hurdle or a fence, he was a trier and knew he was a dude.

“My favourite memory was of his Grade One novice chase win at the 2020 Dublin Racing Festival. The noise and the sprinting of the crowd to the parade ring was something I will never forget.

“We have been blessed to have owned some special horses, but Faugheen will always have a special place amongst them.”

In all Faugheen won 17 of his 26 career starts and amassed over £1million in win and place prize-money.

Ricci also confirmed Douvan and Benie Des Dieux have also run their final races.

Douvan was poetry in motion at his brilliant best
Douvan was poetry in motion at his brilliant best (PA)

Douvan won on his first 13 appearances for Mullins, including Cheltenham wins in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle Trophy.

However, he was a beaten odds-on favourite in the 2017 Queen Mother Champion Chase and has run only three times since, most recently winning the 2019 Clonmel Oil Chase.

Benie Des Dieux meanwhile won eight of her 10 starts for the all-conquering team, with her most notable triumphs coming in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil.

She fell at the final flight when seemingly set to successfully defend her Mares’ Hurdle title in 2019, and was just touched off by the brilliant Honeysuckle when bidding to regain her crown last year.

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.

“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.”

Jeff Kidder upsets the odds once more at Punchestown

Jeff Kidder sprang a 22-1 surprise for trainer Noel Meade as he lifted the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle, the final Grade One of this year’s Punchestown Festival and the Irish jumps season.

Triumph Hurdle hero Quilixios was widely expected to supplement his Cheltenham Triumph Hurdle success and maintain his unbeaten record, but he was beaten a long way out under Rachael Blackmore.

His swift retreat appeared to have handed victory to Willie Mullins’ Cheltenham third Haut En Coleurs, but Jeff Kidder found plenty in the straight, collaring the Willie Mullins-trained runner before the last to go on to win by three-quarters of a length in the hands of Sean Flanagan.

Zanahiyr swooped late to grab second after getting a bit tight for room with the winner at one point, prompting a stewards’ inquiry that made no difference to the result.

Sean Flanagan celebrates on Jeff Kidder
Sean Flanagan celebrates on Jeff Kidder (Niall Carson/PA)

Jeff Kidder was claiming his fourth hurdles victory, having won the juvenile handicap hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival at 80-1 before graduating to Grade Two company at Fairyhouse last month.

“I said in Fairyhouse, if he ever jumps them all he’ll be a really good horse and he did jump today,” said Meade.

“He jumped brilliant and he’s just never stopped improving. Since he came back from Cheltenham, he’s like a film star in the yard. The girls take him off to the beach for a dip and he’s become a star in the yard. I think he’s liking every minute of it.

“A real fast gallop really suits him, like they went in the Fred Winter and as they did there. They were coming back to him and his jumping was fantastic.”

Meade will now look to return to the Flat with Jeff Kidder, adding: “He’s going to have a little break, although I suppose he’s so well you’d think to yourself you should keep going.

“He’ll certainly have a run on the Flat, he’s never going to be a chaser.

“Now that he’s won that, he’s going to have to stay with the big fellas now, that’s his last chance to run in a four-year-old race, so he’ll have to wait until the back end to have a go again.

“It’s been a lonely old week up until now. I said Willie has been the easiest man to find in Punchestown as he’s been in the winner’s enclosure all week.

“To be fair he was the first one to congratulate me. I’m delighted, absolutely thrilled.”

Stormy Ireland (7-2) galloped her rivals into submission in the Grade One Coolmore Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle – chalking up Mullins’ 17th winner of the week.

Danny Mullins was eager to seize the initiative on the seven-year-old, who was one of four contenders for Willie Mullins.

Stormy Ireland bowled along in front and was still full of running with two to jump as 8-11 favourite and stablemate Concertista tried to reel in her handy advantage along with Minella Melody.

However, Mullins had plenty up his sleeve and the mare, who only recently return to Mullins’ care following an unsuccessful spell with Paul Nicholls, cruised home by to take a first top-level victory.

Stormy Ireland impressed Willie Mullins with her win
Stormy Ireland impressed Willie Mullins with her win (Niall Carson/PA)

The Closutton handler admitted his surprise at Stormy Ireland’s progress following a victory at Fairyhouse last month and could now look at Flat targets with his charge.

He said: “She appears to have improved from Fairyhouse. It’s a great day for Danny, a nice double for him.

“That mare surprised me, how much she has come on from that.

“We’ll keep her in training, I don’t think she’s going to go to the breeding shed this year as she looks to have plenty left in the tank.

“I’m having second thoughts now about going chasing with her and maybe we could go back to the Flat with her.

“She’s by Motivator and it might be a safer career option than going chasing. I don’t think she’s going to improver her pedigree by getting black type over fences, she has enough over hurdles.

“If she could do something on the Flat, that would be better for her.”

Mullins made it 18 when the Brian Hayes-ridden Brahma Bull lifted the Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase, before Koshari grabbed another for the trainer in the Baroneracing.com Handicap Hurdle under Ricky Doyle.

Call It Magic (left) made amends for Thursday's mishap
Call It Magic (left) made amends for Thursday’s mishap (Niall Carson/PA)

Keith Donoghue made amends for an unfortunate incident on Thursday as he teamed up with Call It Magic (22-1) to win the opening Dooley Insurance Group Cross Country Chase.

The duo came unstuck in the La Touche Cup when Donoghue took the wrong course, but trainer Ross O’Sullivan thrilled to see the pair right the wrong with a half-length verdict over Ballyboker Bridge.

“I got an unbelievable kick out of that. I can’t believe it, he hasn’t won a race for four years,” said O’Sullivan.

“All the drama the other day and all the effing and blinding that went with it. I’m in shock. He battled and jumped brilliant.

“Racing is so funny with the twists and turns. Myself and Keith were at loggerheads with each other on Thursday, but we’re back today and he gave the horse an absolute genius of a ride.”

Gaillard Du Mesnil digs deep to secure Punchestown prize

Gaillard Du Mesnil landed a second Grade One of the season with victory in the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

The five-year-old took advantage of the late withdrawal of Bob Olinger, who had beaten him in the Ballymore at Cheltenham, to add this to his top-level success at Leopardstown in February.

It was not entirely straight forward however, as he had to dig deep to see off Ashdale Bob by two and a quarter lengths.

Paul Townend celebrates winning the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle with Gaillard Du Mesnil,
Paul Townend celebrates winning the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle with Gaillard Du Mesnil (Brian Lawless/PA)

Jockey Paul Townend was winning his 100th race of the season and said: “This lad was keen enough throughout the race, with just the four runners it was messy enough. Thankfully he’s won and it’s brilliant for Mr and Mrs Donnelly (owners) as well.

“He was sloppy at the last down the back. For a four runner race there was a lot going on. All’s well that ends well.”

Mullins added: “That was a very good performance and I think he’s going to be a nice horse next year.

“There is a good possibility that he’ll jump fences next season and that might help him to settle as well. He’s too busy during a race, but once he learns to relax, he’ll give a lot more.”

Asterion Forlonge was also on the mark for Mullins
Asterion Forlonge was also on the mark for Mullins (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mullins was taking his tally at the meeting to 15 as top-weight Asterion Forlonge had earlier totally outclassed the opposition in the EMS Copiers Novice Handicap Chase.

Giving between 10lb and 21lb to his rivals was no problem for the Grade One regular. Things had not gone right for Asterion Forlonge (11-4 favourite) after he made a winning debut over fences on this course in November, but he has been taking on the best novice company.

However, the seven-year-old grey got back to winning ways in some style with a 14-length demolition of the opposition under Bryan Cooper. Walk Away was second with Port Stanley third, four and three-quarter lengths further adrift.

Mullins said: “The drop in class makes a big difference to the pace of a race and he was able to get it all together. Even with top-weight in a handicap, it’s a different pace than you would have in Graded races.

“Nicer ground helped as well. I think he can improve a lot next year and be able to tackle top graded racing.

“Any of our top-weights that have won that race have turned out to be very good horses (Kemboy won in 2018 and Real Steel in 2019) and I think this fella has the potential to be that as well.

“Bryan said he was travelling at all stages of the race.”

El Barra (12-1) made it 16 for Mullins in the SalesSense International Novice Hurdle and also completed a double for jockey Sean O’Keeffe after Rapid Response had earlier got up in the dying strides to mug Scarlet And Dove in the Hanlon Concrete Irish EBF Glencarraig Lady Francis Flood Mares Handicap Chase.

The Jessica Harrington-trained seven-year-old managed to collar Scarlet And Dove, who had looked the likely winner when going on after jumping the third-last fence.

However, a mistake at the penultimate obstacle did not help her cause and she could not put the race to bed with Rapid Response (9-1) capitalising late on to score by a neck.

Rapid Response was the first leg of a double for Sean O'Keeffe
Rapid Response was the first leg of a double for Sean O’Keeffe (Brian Lawless/PA)

Kate Harrington, assistant to her mother, said: “We always thought there was a big one in her and it’s lovely to see her go and do that.

“It’s quite fitting for the week that the Potts (owners) have a winner with them donating a statue of Sizing John.

“It was a race meeting that Alan and Ann always loved to come to each year. Magic Of Light won it off a mark of 128 back in 2018, and I think Rapid is going to be an exciting staying filly going forward.

“It was the plan all year to aim her at this and it was very exciting just getting up on the line. As a young horse, Ann had a very fond connection with her before she passed away.”

Rewritetherules clears an obstacle at Puchestown
Rewritetherules clears an obstacle at Puchestown (Brian Lawless/PA)

John Hanlon was delighted a plan came to fruition when Rewritetherules (evens favourite) took the Paddy Power Hunters Chase for the Bishopscourt Cup in the hands of amateur Tom Hamilton.

“The plan when they bought him was to win this Cup. The O’Rourke’s (Dermot and Diane) wanted to win this cup for years and they are only four minutes from the course. I’m delighted to get the job done for them,” he said.

“He’ll probably go on hurdling and chasing now and could come back for this race next year.”

Bob And Co (right) edged out Billaway
Bob And Co (right) edged out Billaway (Brian Lawless/PA)

Bob And Co and David Maxwell edged out Billaway and Patrick Mullins in a thrilling finish to the Irish Daily Star Champion Hunters Chase.

Billaway made a brave attempt to made all the running but was just denied as Bob And Co (3-1) ran on determinedly from the last to snatch the spoils by a nose. The pair pulled eight lengths clear of Staker Wallace in third.

It was a second victory at the meeting this week for UK’s champion jumps trainer Paul Nicholls following Clan Des Obeaux in the Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday.

Maxwell said: “It’s amazing, absolutely unbelievable. The horse just wanted it badly, he was never going to lie down and was just always pulling out a bit more and a bit more. He deserved to get it.

“This is the heart of racing – here and Cheltenham. It’s an unbelievable sport that a 43-year-old businessman can come here and do that.”

Energumene impresses with easy Ryanair triumph

Energumene provided Willie Mullins with yet another Grade One winner at the Punchestown Festival when making all the running in the Ryanair Novice Chase.

Having added to his tally in the top-level events when Klassical Dream defied a lengthy absence in the Stayers Hurdle, this success looked likely a long way from home.

Energumene was denied a clash with Shishkin in the Arkle at Cheltenham due to a small setback, but he made a swift recovery and he was sent off the 2-5 favourite to beat a field of just three rivals.

Paul Townend and Energumene after their cosy victory
Paul Townend and Energumene after their cosy victory (Brian Lawless/PA)

One of those was his stablemate, Janadil, a Grade One winner last time out, while Captain Guinness this time took a lead having tried to set the pace at Cheltenham.

He possibly had no say in that matter though, as Energumene set off at a rare lick under Paul Townend and jumping well, just eased further clear.

By the home straight Captain Guinness was running on empty and eventually unseated Rachael Blackmore, but Janadil had already claimed second by then.

Energumene came home 16 lengths clear and Paddy Power immediately cut him to 6-1 from 12s for next year’s Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

Willie Mullins after Energumene's success
Willie Mullins after Energumene’s success (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mullins said: “He seems to be back to himself. He was very slick early on, met a few wrong down the back, but once he got his eye in again over the last four, he was brilliant.

“It was a great performance to finish up the season.

“It was a nice surprise to get him back because I thought when we had to scratch him from Cheltenham, we’d miss Punchestown.

“He just made a very quick recovery. We were hoping to get him to Fairyhouse but that didn’t work, so I said we’d be better off taking our time and coming here and that paid off.”

When asked if he would get further, Mullins added: “He’s won over two and a half miles and has won a point-to-point, the only reason I came back was because he was so slick jumping.

“I thought he’d be a two-and-a-half-mile horse, more like Janidil, but when he gets his jumping right, he’s more like a hurdler over fences.

“I’d imagine we’ll go the Champion Chase route first and we’ll see how that goes.

“He’s a nice one for (owner) Tony Bloom to have.”