Golden Silver takes scalp of Big Zeb as Mullins records a magnificent five-timer
Champion trainer Willie Mullins' love affair with Punchestown intensified yesterday when the Closutton handler achieved yet another career highlight - an unprecedented five-timer from the six races yielding a 952/1 dividend for anyone fortunate enough to have been on the bandwagon.
A dozen scorers at each of the historic Kildare course's last two glamour festivals rounded off splendid campaigns then for the Mullins team, but he was more than surprised to saddle the first four winners on the bounce, this time in association with Paul Townend.
Then, for good measure, son Patrick rounded off the afternoon's bonanza by landing the bumper on their 9/2 debutant Celtic Folklore, prompting his father to remark: "It's been fantastic. Coming here, I thought Gagewell Flyer was going to be my winner for the day."
His further observation that "the horses just seem to be in great order" indeed is something of an understatement, as the formidable father-son alliance had also taken the Fairyhouse finale with Tusa Eire the previous afternoon before Golden Silver sparked the mini-avalanche here by taking the notable scalp of Boylesports.com Tied Cottage Chase hotpot, Big Zeb, for the first time in their five meetings.
Hardly inspiring when jumping a little sketchily and trailing his four rivals to halfway, Golden Silver still looked to have plenty on his plate when turning for home only third as Big Zeb went on from Sizing Europe and seemed set to justify plenty of market support.
The picture changed dramatically though after Barry Geraghty steadied the favourite over the final fence, only landing marginally in front of his pursuer on which Townend seized the chance to drive Golden Silver for all his worth to register an exciting half-length success.
"It's the old adage 'if you're not in, you can't win' I suppose. This horse seems to thrive on his racing and enjoyed being dropped in like we did at Fairyhouse the last day. I had been thinking of the Ryanair Chase as well as the Champion Chase for him.
"I'd imagine we'll go straight to Cheltenham now and leave him in both races for the moment," added Mullins, who later schooled the likes of Cooldine, Mikael D'Haguenet, Kempes and Quel Esprit ahead of Sunday's big Leopardstown fixture.
Big Zeb's regular partner, Barry Geraghty, blamed himself for getting beaten. "It was my own fault -- I should have waited," he said.
Trainer Colm Murphy pointed out: "His good jumping out the country may have cost him as he probably got there too soon. If it was going to happen it's better here than at Cheltenham."
Mullins and Townend followed up in the marathon Grand National Trial as Some Target -- a possible now for the National Hunt Chase in the Cotswolds -- landed several decent wagers on his handicap debut.
The 9/2 chance was also delivered with a late run to overtake longshot Noble Concorde and keep the spoils in the stewards' room following an enquiry into an accidental collision after the last with the runner-up that resulted in Townend being cautioned.
Just to emphasise the yard's dominance, favourite Gagewell Flyer's closest pursuer at the finish of the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle was stable companion Earlson Gray on his Irish debut after something of a chequered career in his native France.
Completing his hat-trick over timber, Gagewell Flyer jumped fluently for Townend and took a decisive lead into the straight that had all except Earlson Gray in trouble. The Neptune Novices Hurdle back over two and a half miles at Cheltenham is his next port of call.
Yet another of Mullins' French imports Raptor developed into a major fancy for the Mianach Venture Capital Maiden Hurdle in the absence of Jetson and duly got the job done in workmanlike fashion for Townend, whose sole defeat from his five mounts yesterday came when Kerb Appeal was a one-paced third to Square Sphere and Rivage D'Or in the latest Irish qualifier for Cheltenham's Pertemps Handicap Hurdle.
Full marks must also go to the Punchestown executive for beating the successive night frosts and staging all bar the Glenfarclas cross-country 'chase thanks to their expenditure of around €20,000 on over four miles of reusable polythene sheeting.
That experiment enabled them overcome the elements that would otherwise have scuttled the last major meeting there before the festival in the first week of May. A team of 20 men worked for three hours from 7.30 lifting the plastic covers from both the 'chase and hurdle tracks.