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Willie's fab four light up Festival

WILLIE MULLINS can't quite walk on water, but his charges got through it fairly well yesterday, as the champion trainer won four of the five races that were held at Punchestown.

The champion trainer hadn't a runner in the opening Martinstown Opportunity Hurdle, but went on to win the remaining four races on the card to bring his tally to five after the opening two days of action.

A creditable crowd of 11,500 braved the elements and witnessed Mullins saddle a remarkable 1-2-3 in the War Of Attrition Novice Hurdle, as Marasonnien led home Vesper Bell and Sous Les Cieux.

Not only was it a 1-2-3 for the trainer, but all three were owned by a couple of Mullins' leading owners, Rich and Susannah Ricci, in what was an unprecedented achievement over jumps.

In the hands of Paul Townend, Marasonnien cruised up to take over at the head of affairs, and while Sous Les Cieux also travelled well from the back, he just didn't stay the trip, according to his rider, Ruby Walsh.

Mullins said: "The winner loved the ground and Ruby said that Sous Les Cieux didn't stay.


"I always felt he didn't need a trip so I will go back in distance with him now.

"I would think all three of them will go over fences.

"They are three stayers that we thought were the types to make chasers when we got them."

Mullins added of the winner: "He isn't the nicest looking horse but he had the same form as Mikael D'Haguenet and came from the same trainer so I couldn't leave him behind."

Loch Ard began the four-timer when he won the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel Four-Year-Old Hurdle.

A much more popular 6/4 shot and well backed at that, he too seemed to relish the conditions and may have booked his ticket to Auteuil for a step up in class.

"These are the sort of conditions he wants," said the trainer.

"And we will try and find another race for him, he could go to Auteuil where he might also go through it."

The betchronicle.com Champion Bumper was a classy renewal and it was the Cheltenham Festival hero Champagne Fever who proved his toughness by winning by a very impressive seven-and-a-half lengths.


Patrick Mullins, himself instigating a double on the day, went a good gallop on the 11/4 favourite, and he stayed on and idled up the straight, according to the winning rider afterwards.

The jockey's father revealed: "He is one horse really worth looking forward to. We may consider going straight over fences, he might go the route I went with Florida Pearl, but I don't know if it's the right thing to do or not."

He added: "He obviously stays well and he jumps well, so we'll see."

Flash Of Genius, the somewhat aptly named winner of the last, had 24-lengths to spare for the Mullins team in the Gigginstown House colours.

It was 801 days since the horse had made his only other appearance -- when winning a point-to-point -- but after a wonderful training performance he left his 11 rivals trailing in his wake as he powered home.

"That was a bit of a surprise," admitted the successful trainer.

"We've had a few training problems but he is another that we are really looking forward to. He may go to the Curragh in a fortnight for the Rockview Bumper."

The only other race on the card was the Martinstown Opportunity Final, won by locally trained Shamiran, a 12/1 winner for Steven Nolan.

Ridden by Ian McCarthy, he kept going well throughout and stayed on best to win.