Mullins gets huge trainers’ title boost in Punchestown Champion Hurdle

Greg Wood at Punchestown
Trainer Willie Mullins, right, and son jockey Patrick lift the cup in the parade ring after winning the Punchestown Champion Hurdle with Wicklow Brave on Friday. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Patrick Mullins was the hero for his father Willie here on Friday evening as he rode a brave, brilliantly judged race on Wicklow Brave to win the Punchestown Champion Hurdle and shift the balance of power in the race for the Irish trainers’ title.

He followed up aboard Bacardys in the Grade One Champion Novice Hurdle half an hour later to send the stable into a clear lead in the championship and Willie Mullins is now 1-5 to retain his title, the same price that Gordon Elliott was quoted to claim it for the first time at the start of this week’s Festival.

Mullins sent Wicklow Brave into a long lead with almost a mile still to run and while his pursuers tried to chase him down in the straight, a slick jump at the last secured victory by a fast-diminishing one and a half lengths.

Wicklow Brave took the Group One Irish St Leger last autumn in similar style and is now one of very few horses to have won at the highest level both on the Flat and over jumps. My Tent Or Yours, three times the runner-up in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, filled the same position here while Arctic Fire, another runner from the Mullins yard, was third.

Elliott’s mercurial novice Labaik finished fourth following his near-refusal to race here on Tuesday, but that was not enough to preserve Elliott’s lead in the title race as Mullins moved narrowly in front. Patrick Mullins then sent his father into a clear lead of around €50,000 with a win on Bacardys that was the exact opposite of his success on Wicklow Brave. Mullins charged late on the 10-1 chance to run down Finian’s Oscar in the final strides, with Elliott’s Death Duty only third.

The money, Mullins said afterwards, was the last thing on his mind as he saw his son turning for home on Wicklow Brave with a healthy lead and about a quarter of a mile in which to defend it.

“The horse took off with him and Patrick had enough sense not to fight him, just to let him go, as he won his Leger from the front,” the trainer said.

“He got the horse really flying over his jumps, and coming to the last, I could see him eyeing it up from a long way out. For an amateur rider to do something like that, it’s really special. He takes his chances, he’s really committed and works hard at it, and for his size, I don’t know how he does the weights he does.

“I really enjoyed Patrick winning it, that’s special for me. I didn’t realise that I was in front [in the title race] or that we’d won so much prize money in that race, someone just said it to me coming down off the stand. It was the last thing on my mind to be quite honest. I was just delighted for Patrick.”

The energy expended by Wicklow Brave in the middle of the race seemed sure to catch up with him in the closing stages, but the eight-year-old stayed on strongly, justifying his jockey’s decision to send him on at an early stage.

“I’d ridden him before and we’d got on quite well,” the jockey said. “We jumped off last, but he jumped so slickly and travelled so sweetly, I thought that rather than disappoint him, I’d take a chance that his jumping would bring him into the race.

“Once he was enjoying himself, I just let him enjoy himself and I didn’t think we were going mad fast.

“It’s fantastic for my father, he works so hard. It’s been an enthralling season for himself and Gordon and it’s a pity that someone has to lose, but we have a fighting chance now and we’ll give it everything we can.”

A son of Frankel from the John Gosden stable took the Classic Trial at Sandown Park on Friday, but it was Cunco, already a veteran of seven previous starts, who crossed the line in front with his stablemate Monarchs Glen, the odds-on favourite, well beaten.

Cunco was the first son of Frankel to see a racecourse last year and the outstanding champion’s first winner as a sire as well, but he remains a 40-1 shot to give Frankel a Derby winner in his first crop.

Monarchs Glen showed a long stride and an easy action as Frankie Dettori set out to make all the running on the 5-6 favourite, but he also displayed the headstrong nature that has been a feature of plenty of Frankel’s offspring to date. He was joined by Ralph Beckett’s Intern over a furlong out and then faded steadily through the closing stages as Cunco arrived under Robert Tart to edge past Intern and win by a head.

“[Cunco] is not very big but he has a heart as big as a lion and he’s run well in all his races,” Gosden said. “He gives you everything and he wasn’t running here just for fun. I told Robert to come late as he would see out every inch. He wants a mile and a half now [and] I was thinking of going to the Chester Vase [with him in early May].

“Frankie [on Monarchs Glen] was holding on to a horse who seemed to be changing his legs and hanging a bit. I’m making no great excuses but it [the ground] obviously didn’t suit him today. As far as I’m concerned, they [the Frankel offspring] are amazing athletes, strong-bodied and good-boned, but they’ve just got this wonderful wildness in them which I think is quite exciting.”

Ulysses, who is by Frankel’s sire Galileo out of the Oaks winner Light Shift, made a very promising start to his four-year-old career with a smooth success in the Group Three Gordon Richards Stakes. Sir Michael Stoute’s colt emerged from the chasing pack to ease himself past Deauville inside the final furlong, and is now quoted at single-figure odds for the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.

“He’s a different horse this year,” Andrea Atzeni, the winner’s jockey, said. “Much stronger and mentally more mature, he’s a horse with a bright future. I’d say 10 furlongs is his trip, but he hit the line quite strong.”

The prolific eight-year-old Sovereign Debt, now trained by Ruth Carr following the retirement of David Nicholls, recorded the most prestigious win of his career in the Group Two Bet365 Mile, beating Gabriel by half a length.

“It’s a big day for us, our first runner in a Group race and it’s a winner,” Carr said. “He might be eight, but he’s not getting worse.”

Saturday tips

Sandown 1.50 Gregarious 2.25 Menorah 3.00 Altior 3.35 What’s Happening 4.10 L’Ami Serge 4.45 Shantou Village 5.20 Stowaway Magic

Haydock 1.30 Chiswick Bey 2.05 War Glory (nap) 2.40 Penwortham 3.15 Maghfoor 3.45 Western Safari 4.20 Casina Di Notte 4.55 Zain Arion

Ripon 2.10 Faradays Spark 2.45 Wilde Inspiration 3.20 Pipers Note (nb) 3.55 Gabrial’s King 4.30 Noble Gift 5.05 Daawy 5.40 Coolfitch

Leicester 2.20 Diamond Lady 2.55 Never Back Down 3.30 Above Normal 4.05 Home Of The Brave 4.40 Navarone 5.10 Splash Around 5.45 Angelical

Doncaster 4.50 Tomahawk Kid 5.25 Darkanna 6.00 Gilded Reflection 6.35 Maraakib 7.05 Delannoy 7.35 Karisma 8.05 Lahore

Wolverhampton 5.50 Compas Scoobie 6.20 Want The Fairytale 6.50 Deep Challenger 7.20 Global Empire 7.50 Amazing Red 8.20 Outlaw Torn 8.50 Manchego

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