Mullins hails new February 'Festival'
Willie Mullins has hailed the 'Festival of Jumps' addition to the Irish racing calendar every February as "one of the biggest initiatives in years".
Horse Racing Ireland has approved the creation of a new two-day extravaganza to be run for the first time on the weekend of Saturday, February 3 next. The Irish Champion Hurdle will be the feature event on the first day, while the Irish Gold Cup will headline the Sunday card. Total prize-money for the weekend will be €1.5m in 2018.
The festival combines the feature races from Leopardstown's three meets in late January and mid-February and is seen as perfectly positioned in the calendar, equidistant from its Christmas festival and the Cheltenham Festival. Seven Grade One races and three Grade Twos will feature, with overall prize-money of €1.5m in 2018.
Mullins said: "It's hugely important. It will put together some meetings that were probably failing a little punch after Christmas; this will have huge punch as a two-day festival. It's a real festival to aim for which will gather cross-channel visitors too. The timing is just right and it's the biggest initiative in jumps racing since Punchestown became the festival it is now."
Mullins has ruled Penhill out of the Ascot Stakes on Tuesday as he is not happy with him but he may run Thomas Hobson and Laws Of Spin.
Michael Halford, meanwhile, plans to run Yulong Warrior and Moritzburg at Royal Ascot, with Irish Guineas third Irishcorrespondent spearheading his challenge in the Hampton Court Stakes on Thursday.
He said: "Irishcorrespondent's form has no holes in it at all. I'm delighted with him and his preparation has been great. He worked well on Wednesday morning at the Curragh and just wouldn't want the ground too firm."
Oaks runner-up Rhododendron will take on 15 rivals in the Prix de Diane at Chantilly on Sunday. Also in France, Irish rider Philip Carberry has retired from the saddle aged 36.