Ligeonniere rallies troops for Mullins
WILLIE Mullins and Paul Townend ensured leading owner Rich Ricci claimed the lion's share of the Leopardstown prize money as they provided a big-race double for the American.
Arvika Ligeonniere and Blood Cotil both went off odds-on favourites, and even though they had to work harder than expected, the pair still showed plenty of Cheltenham potential.
Impressive winner of the Drinmore Novice Chase, Arvika Ligeonniere adopted the front-running tactics that were so successful at Fairyhouse – albeit this time not pulling quite so far clear of his opposition.
The 9/10 favourite began to wind up the tempo moving down the back straight, but he was jumping slightly out to his right, and a mistake at the third last gave pursuers Baily Green and Oscars Well a chance.
However, Arvika Ligeonniere was much better at the second last and, although he was tiring after the final obstacle, he had enough in reserve to hold off Oscars Well by two-and-a-half lengths.
"He got a bit tired but the ground is heavy," reflected Mullins. "He settled well over the first and had a great jump. He jumped the second and third well and then piled on the pace.
"Paul said he was idling turning for home – I was wondering whether he was getting tired. He's a big strong horse and we'll look forward to the (Irish) Arkle back here in February."
Blood Cotil made it two wins from as many starts since joining Mullins with a workmanlike victory in the Q8 OILS Juvenile Hurdle.
The Grade Two contest was rendered far less competitive by the withdrawal of likely favourite Our Conor, leaving runaway Fairyhouse scorer Blood Cotil a warm order as the 4/9 market leader.
Townend cut a confident figure throughout the two-mile contest and while he took longer than anticipated to find top gear, Blood Cotil jumped the last well to seal a three-length success from Stocktons Wing.
"He's a nice sort. We know he stays, so the ground wasn't going to be a problem. We were just worried if he'd settle, but he settled beautifully," Mullins remarked.
"He pulled very hard in Fairyhouse but sometimes horses do that on their first run and he would have learnt an awful lot from that. We're looking forward to him."
There was also a Mullins winner of the Q8 OILS Maiden Hurdle but this time it was Margaret Mullins who was celebrating as her Anonis – winner of a Listed Cheltenham bumper last month – made a successful debut over flights.
Partnered by the trainer's son Danny, Anonis moved up to challenge the champion trainer's strong-travelling The Paparrazi Kid before the final obstacle. The two of them settled down to fight it out and Anonis won the argument by a length and three-quarters.
"I am delighted. He was green as I thought he would be," said the winning trainer. "He had a problem last Christmas but he came through it well and we didn't get that schooling into him. We were just trying to get him back on the track and he schooled well since Cheltenham.
"He is a nice horse. He is good and tough. He will have another couple of runs over hurdles before we decide where he will go."
Noel Meade's Ned Buntline got back on the winning trail with a stylish display in the opening maiden hurdle.
A hugely impressive winner of a Naas bumper in early November, the four-year-old suffered a surprise defeat on his hurdling bow at Fairyhouse earlier this month. However, sent off the 4/5 favourite to gain compensation, Ned Buntline was always travelling powerfully under Paul Carberry and moved smoothly into contention in the straight.
Jumping the final flight, market rival Urano looked a big danger, but Ned Buntline saw him off pretty readily in the end to secure a two-length verdict. "That is a bit of a weight off my back," said the winning trainer. The second horse is a good horse and it took a good horse to beat him the last day (Meade's Ally Cascade).
"Paul said the ground was a shade soft for him. He will improve a good bit when he learns to settle and jumps more relaxed. He is still diving a bit at hurdles."
Colm Murphy's Shariyan overcame a long absence to justift favouritism in the day's two-mile, two-furlong handicap hurdle.
Sent off 4/1 market leader despite not having run since February, the six-year-old quickened up well in the hands of Robbie Power to beat Blazing Sonnet by three-and-a-half lengths.
With Ruby Walsh at Kempton, it was left to sister Katie to fly the family flag and she duly guided Philip Dempsey's Jacksonslady to victory in the handicap chase, while the concluding bumper went to the Harry Kelly-trained Moyle Park.