ON a day when punters endured shocks aplenty at Navan, Willie Mullins fielded a disappointing favourite for the Ladbrokes Boyne Hurdle but was still smiling broadly.
The champion trainer was expected to land the contest with Thousand Stars, but the 1/2 market leader turned in a rare off day as stablemate On His Own took the spoils.
In beating off Si C'Etait Vrai by just over two lengths, Paul Townend's mount further strengthened the Mullins hand for the Aintree Grand National.
One of two National candidates owned by Graham Wylie, the nine-year-old was travelling in the big race last year when toppling over at Becher's Brook
"Coming here, the plan was to give him another run over fences before the National," said Mullins. "But after winning today we might review that and he could have another run over hurdles."
On His Own has now usurped his stablemate Prince de Beauchene, also in the same ownership, as favourite for the National, having been cut to 8/1 from 12/1 with Betfred.
Mullins blamed the ground for Thousand Stars' poor showing.
"Ruby (Walsh) said he just couldn't handle the ground. He came back in with muck halfway up his knees and just seemed to sink into it," he said.
"He's unlikely to run at Cheltenham as the Aintree Hurdle is the one race we really have in mind for him."
Terminal gave Mullins the middle part of a treble with a clear-cut win in the Irish Form Book Ten Up Novice Chase under Walsh. The 4/6 favourite Tofino Bay tried to make all in a tactical affair but Terminal got on top at the last to score by five and a half lengths.
Mullins then teamed up with the owners of Tofino Bay, the Gigginstown House Stud, to land the concluding bumper with Made In Germany (9/10 favourite) in the hands of the trainer's son, champion amateur Patrick.
Another horse which did his Aintree claims no harm was Chicago Grey, which sprang a 25/1 surprise in the Red Mills Chase.
The Gordon Elliott-trained outsider of four led between the last two fences under Davy Condon before going on to beat Foildubh by two and a half lengths.
The big disappointment was Rubi Light, which made the running as he tried to lift this Grade Two prize for the third successive year, but he never looked like winning after being headed before the third-last.
"I thought he'd run well. He's had a wind op and obviously the Grand National is the plan now," said Elliott.
Boylesports cut Chicago Grey from 33/1 to 25/1 for Aintree, while Ladbrokes went 20s.
Condon completed a double when replacing the injured Paul Carberry on Noel Meade's Mullaghanoe River (7/4 favourite) in the maiden hurdle.
Meade revealed afterwards that Carberry injured himself in his yard when a horse that he was breaking in reared back on him.
"It caught him near the eye and he needed eight stitches across the eyelid," the trainer explained. "He rang me early this morning and he knew he was in trouble as he couldn't see out of it."
Buckers Bridge edged out Twinlight in a thrilling finish to the Flyingbolt Novice Chase. Twinlight looked like striking for Mullins when holding a narrow lead after jumping the last, but Buckers Bridge rallied under a hard drive from Andrew Lynch to get up in the final strides.
"He just wasn't right at Fairyhouse (fifth in the Drinmore Chase) the last day so we backed off him and gave him a bit of a break. He seems to be back as good as ever," said trainer Henry de Bromhead.
"He's entered in the Jewson at Cheltenham. I also put him in the novice handicap chase but he probably won't be qualified for that now."
This win completed a double for Lynch, who took the opening maiden hurdle aboard the Harry Rogers-trained Irish Thistle (9/2), which stayed on strongly to upset the odds-on favourite City Slicker.