Sunday 23 April 2017

Rampant Mullins hits back with four-timer

Jockey Ruby Walsh (left) and Trainer Willie Mullins (right) celebrate receiving trophies after winning the Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle on Let's dance and achieving four wins during St Patrick's Thursday of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire
Jockey Ruby Walsh (left) and Trainer Willie Mullins (right) celebrate receiving trophies after winning the Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle on Let's dance and achieving four wins during St Patrick's Thursday of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Johnny Ward

If he had been hailed for his level-headedness in the adversity of the first couple of days, Willie Mullins returned to his familiar haunt yesterday of shaking hands of congratulation. Again and again and again.

He knows all of this too well - a fabulous four-timer bringing his Festival tally to 52 on a day when the whole place seemed to shed a collective hangover. A two-day blank for the great man had one fear the future like those vehemently against Brexit. Normality reigns again.

Gordon Elliott wasn't really mapped as Mullins rallied with an incredible four winners, now one behind Elliott in the 'Irish Independent' Cheltenham trainers' challenge - a little teaser ahead of the Irish race. Both could yet go to the wire.

It was hard to pick one virtuous performance ahead of the other three but Yorkhill's win in the opening JLT (6/4) felt like a dam bursting with a river of relief - and that was just from an Irishman's punting perspective among the record-Thursday crowd of 66,200.

This was poetry from Ruby Walsh, unwavering in his faith in a steed Mullins reasonably says is as much a Champion Hurdler as a Gold Cup horse in time.

"To be on the board is huge," Mullins conceded. Walsh added: "He slipped taking off at the first down the back; when he landed I thought, 'Your luck could be in today'. Everything can't go your way all the time; you have to prepare for that."

Un De Sceaux's Ryanair romp at a well-backed 7/4 illustrated that punters' confidence was restored, as Yorkhill's SP surely reflected previous unease.

Walsh's brilliance was evident again: he ditched his manuscript to let the keen ball of will stride on from the fifth. The nearest anyone got to him henceforth - Sub Lieutenant - was a length and a half at the wire. Mullins' superlatives flowed like John Coffey's magic powers in overdrive in 'The Green Mile'. "He's everything you'd want in a racehorse: brave, strong and sound - an iron horse.

"He does that every day at home. My heart is in my mouth every morning watching him. That's a real racehorse there, a super horse to do what he does."

Read more: Mullins and Walsh claim sensational Thursday quadruple as Nichols Canyon takes the Stayers' Hurdle

Unowhatimeanharry's strength in the betting in the Stayers' Hurdle was such that it was hard to envisage defeat and only Jezki seemed to attract much support against him. Step forward 10/1 Nichols Canyon from left field, bringing up the treble under a patient Walsh steer. He edged the gutsy Lil Rockerfeller, with the favourite only third.

"He's tough," Mullins said. "He always works a bit dead, so we changed his routine; you have to try something.

"My wife Jackie suggested maybe we'd change the rider and I thought maybe we'd change the stable, so we did both."

The four-timer, helping the Irish take a 14-7 lead over the British into day four, seemed as inevitable as a Dermot Weld winner in Galway. Let's Dance, in which Mullins had a belief that would rival that of the brainwashed, was pretty sublime at 11/8 in the mares' novice hurdle.

Those who questioned him with regard to the trip were like almost everyone who falls into that trap - wrong - and the 60-year-old admitted: "We thought this might be the weakest race she was in, though the trip was short of her best."

This was Rich Ricci's first winner of the week. Walsh was exuberant now; four winners and a dramatic lead in the jockeys' table can do that.

Back-loaded

"What a day! The horses ran well the first two days; they just weren't winning. In previous years we were front-loaded and this year we were back-loaded."

Pat Kelly could fit his entire string in Willie's car but one of them, Mall Dini, ran a blinder in the finale won by 40/1 Domesday Book. That was after stablemate Presenting Percy bolted up in the Pertemps, which Mall Dini won last year.

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"Nice horse, a great owner and a free hand," said the enigmatic Galwegian Kelly, who should talk to the media more often on this evidence.

Noel Meade got in on the act when 14/1 Road To Respect won earlier. "Thank God," he said of the first two days, "that Willie has the odd bad day or else the rest of us would never win."

He was laughing, but almost every other trainer here yesterday can relate.

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