Prince can help crown Mullins king of Aintree
ON Saturday, Willie Mullins' already strong-looking Grand National team was further boosted by Prince De Beauchene's authoritative display in the At The Races Bobbyjo Chase.
The champion trainer has 12 entries in the Aintree spectacular, seven of which are guaranteed a run.
Prince De Beauchene, currently on 10st 6lb, needs only three to come out to get in, and the layers make him their new favourite at a best-priced 10/1 after his Fairyhouse triumph.
On just his second start for Mullins -- notwithstanding that he came from Howard Johnson -- there was always a chance that the nine-year-old would show the improvement required to beat a number of superior-rated rivals on Saturday, and that he did.
Moreover, he beat the returning 2010 National runner-up Black Apalachi by an easy six lengths off level weights.
The performance of Dessie Hughes' 13-year-old was in itself hugely promising, but Hughes' disgust at the way his horse was treated by the English handicapper won't be eased any for that.
Come Liverpool, he will be 11lb worse off with Prince De Beauchene.
By waiting until the National weights had been published before turning Prince De Beauchene out again following his respectable fifth under top-weight in a decent Troytown in November, Mullins has played his cards prudently.
He said after watching the Graham Wylie-owned gelding score under Paul Townend on Saturday that his hand had been forced a little on that score but, be it by accident or design, Prince De Beauchene has now won the same prep race that the handler's Hedgehunter landed en route to Aintree glory in 2005.
Meanwhile, until very late on Friday morning, Townend's cousin and fellow Corkman Davy Condon had been jocked up to ride Portrait King in Saturday's Eider Chase for Maurice Phelan.
Condon's commitments to Noel Meade and Gordon Elliott at Fairyhouse eventually saw him replaced at Newcastle by Youghal native Denis O'Regan, who was typically sublime in coaxing the likeable grey to the front halfway up the run-in after four-plus miles.
Backed into an SP of 11/4, Portrait King has thrived since being stepped up in trip, this coming on the back of a facile success in the Punchestown Grand National Trial for Condon.
Still a novice, he is a seven-year-old with just six runs over fences, and Phelan confirmed Aintree a future target; ground permitting, the Irish equivalent is an option this year.
Regardless of what the future now holds, however, this was a very fine training performance by Phelan.
In nearly 20 years prior to this term, the Athy-based man had saddled nine winners over jumps, and never more than two of them a season.
In advance of sending out his first ever English winner on Saturday, he already had three up this time, having run just four horses in all.
Saturday's Newcastle coup, a first Irish victory in the marathon contest since This Is Serious scored for Charlie Swan and Tony Dobbin 10 years ago, was a superb feat that was reportedly hatched up to a year ago. Phelan picked his spot carefully, and didn't miss.
One final thing. Portrait King obliged off a mark of 131 on Saturday, a rating all of 11lb higher than he would have been asked to race off at home.
In two days' time, almost a year after our horses won 45pc of the handicaps at Cheltenham having been seemingly leniently treated, the weights for this year's Festival handicaps will be released.
Don't expect them to make for easy reading.
Minsk out of Cheltenham
after Fairyhouse defeat
HAVING lost his place at the head of the ante-post betting for next month's JCB Triumph Hurdle following a narrow defeat to Burrenbridge Lodge in the Winning Fair Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Saturday, Minsk was yesterday ruled out of Cheltenham.
Dessie Hughes revealed that a scope showed Minsk to be suffering from an inflamed throat, and that a decision had been made to preserve his novice status for next season.
Barry Connell, who purchased Minsk prior to his October Irish Cesarewitch triumph, said the four-year-old would return to John Oxx's for a tilt at the Irish St Leger in the interim. Burrenbridge Lodge's quarter-length verdict in Saturday's Grade Two was his fourth for Kieran Purcell and Tom Doyle, who were also on the mark with Paddy Pub at Naas yesterday.
Successful in the first juvenile hurdle of the campaign at Roscommon in August, he will skip Cheltenham in favour of Punchestown.
Ride of the weekend
DENIS O'Regan's aforementioned winning steer on Portrait King in the Eider Chase at Newcastle showcased the in-form rider's all-round excellence. He initially rode a patient race from the rear and then from the front, just sitting on the grey when they first jumped into the lead three-out.
A mistake at the next saw the partnership passed by the flying Posh Bird, but O'Regan never panicked, and Portrait King never looked like he wouldn't get back up.
of the weekend
PAUL Cashman produced Idarah (14/1) in mean shape for Naas yesterday.
On its first run since October and a first over hurdles since July, the grey nine-year-old benefited from a superb drive from Nina Carberry in the 2m handicap. Despite looking doomed to be swallowed up at the last, Idarah dug deep to prevail by a neck.
Both horse and jockey excelled, but Cashman had him ready for business ahead of a possible tilt at the Grand Annual Chase at Cheltenham.
15 Millimetres of water that Cheltenham's clerk of the course Simon Claisse expects to apply to the turf this week. Up to 8mm was put down between Wednesday and Friday, as efforts intensify to ease going that is currently good, good to firm in spots.
"JUST watching 'Luck' on Sky Anytime, God I thought I'd a bad pair of hands but that 'Bug' makes me feel good about myself!"
-- Martin Lane, British champion apprentice in 2010, in self-deprecating form as he watches the new horseracing drama on an easy Sunday morning.