Mullins in no mood to pull up in title chase
In the unlikely event that Noel Meade might have been contemplating coasting clear in the fashion of old in the trainers' championship, Willie Mullins this weekend took the opportunity to remind us all of the task facing the former champion.
Once upon a time, not too long ago, it would be around now that the seven-time title-holder Meade would build up an unassailable head of steam. In recent seasons, though, his potency diminished -- last term's haul of 53 his worst in most of 20 years.
Meade's resurgence over the past few months, then, has had a touch of nostalgic reassurance about it, and his one-two with Il Fenomeno and Dylan Ross in the Grade Two novice hurdle at Navan yesterday was further evidence that his strength is not just in numbers. Still, in many ways, it is Mullins who has realigned the parameters for Irish jumps handlers since securing the first of four consecutive titles in 2008, with his leading trainer gong at Cheltenham in March an appropriate pinnacle.
As tends to be the norm, his Closutton outfit has cranked up gradually this time, to the point where seven of his last 17 runners have won over an eight-day period. At home this weekend, Quel Esprit, Lambro and Boston Bob all turned in stomping winning performances.
However, it was Mullins' decision to raid the Open meeting at Cheltenham that should have really piqued our attention, for this is a fixture that he has traditionally ignored. His last runners there were -- wait for it -- all of six years ago.
On Friday, he saddled Uncle Junior to triumph in the cross-country race under his son Patrick, 24 hours before nephew Danny, riding his first winner since relocating to England, impressed in getting Dorset Square up in a thrilling hurdle race.
The victories of Great Endeavour and Brampour (especially for the latter under young Harry Derham) provided excellent narratives in the respective features for the Pipe and Nicholls families on Saturday and yesterday, but Mullins' placing of two horses that seemed largely exposed was a shrewd bit of business that typifies the way he goes about the job.
Sadly, his weekend was tarnished by the death of champion bumper hero Lovethehigherlaw on the gallops yesterday. Along with Samain, Lovethehigherlaw was one of the first horses that Mullins trained for Michael O'Leary's increasingly powerful Gigginstown Stud, so his presence will be keenly missed.
That said, and without intending to dismiss the horse's ill-fortune, if there is one trainer and one owner in the game right now that can absorb such a desperate loss, it is surely Mullins and Gigginstown.
Of course, the latter's patronage of Meade has been pivotal to the Meath handler's revival, all of which will add to the intrigue as two heavyweight operators knuckle down to establish supremacy. This year, at least, it looks like being a more equal fight.
Snow Fairy flies home
On the weekend that news filtered through of Dubacilla's passing, it was fitting that Snow Fairy would fly home from the rear of the field to secure back-to-back wins in the Group One QE II Cup in Japan. Referred to memorably by Peter O'Sullevan as "the mare at the back", Dubacilla defied a lack of pace to stay on dourly for second in testing ground behind Master Oats in the 1995 Cheltenham Gold Cup, before running similarly when fourth in the Aintree Grand National. The Ed Dunlop-trained Snow Fairy's late swoop for glory under Ryan Moore in Japan might not resonate here in the way that Dubacilla used to, but it was another fine coup for the fairer sex.
Ride of the weekend
Noel Fehily executed a master-class on Gauvain at Cheltenham yesterday. With his partner eager to please, Fehily let Gauvain stride on early, and signalled his intent by asking for a monster leap at the ditch on top of the hill. Gauvain responded in kind, before forging clear of market leader Woolcombe Folly. He may have won by 16 lengths, but it was Fehily's forceful ride that broke the favourite's heart.
Training performance of
Colm Murphy deserves immense credit for producing Voler La Vedette and Big Zeb to win in graded company at Navan yesterday. Lest we forget, Voler La Vedette is only in training because she failed to stay in foal, and Big Zeb faced two classy and race-fit opponents in Noble Prince and Forpadydeplasterer.
3 -- The number of licensed Mangans who graced the winner's enclosure at Limerick yesterday. Paddy Mangan took the opener on Jenari, before his sister Jane steered Luke's Benefit to victory. In the bumper, Jane (18) doubled up on Carries Darling, which is trained by her father Jimmy.
"On the way pointing in Wexford and then back to Navan for the bumper #hopefullynospeedcameras" "@RobbiepMcN do u want a medal?" -- Bryan Cooper shows his contempt for the endeavours of Robbie McNamara, a famously work-shy amateur rider who describes himself as a "Professional lazyman" on his Twitter page.