Monday 28 May 2018

Bellshill the star turn as Mullins hits Elliott for six in title battle

‘King of Punchestown’ lives up to title as 9,802/1 haul breaks main rival’s resistance

David Mullins. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
David Mullins. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

The champagne will have been flowing in The Lord Bagenal Inn - Willie Mullins' local - last night after a record-breaking day in Punchestown which saw the Carlow handler visit the winner's enclosure six times, but the story was so much different 24 hours earlier.

Mullins isn't one to show too much emotion but he had to be quietly seething leaving the track on Tuesday night after an inexplicable error from Paul Townend saw Al Boum Photo throw away all chance of success in such bizarre circumstances.

Did Mullins have to issue a stern talking to him after the previous evening's events? "No, he came into the yard and he got slagged like every other jockey would," Mullins said.

"And it turned out Joe Tizzard (assistant trainer to his father Colin, trainer of Finian's Oscar, which he carried out in Tuesday's race) was the first visitor we had this morning so the two of them met and had a chat. These things happen. No one's dead.

"No one's injured. We just went home last night and got up this morning and said, 'What's happened, get over it, move on' and the guys in the yard have just replied to that."

The regularity of racing throws up many opportunities for redemption and the Cork pilot didn't waste any time as he got straight back on the horse to prevail in his very next ride aboard Pravalaguna (11/4) in the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel Hurdle.

Having played the villain 24 hours earlier, Townend quickly became the hero and it's a measure of the man that he could bounce back in such devastating fashion.

Could many rugby players (Johnny Sexton aside) miss crucial penalties before delivering in a clutch situation? Could many golfers miss a putt to win a Major and deliver in a play-off? It was a remarkable change in fortunes borne out of unwavering confidence.

All 19,073 in attendance were quick to show their appreciation as Townend's class told under huge pressure. It would have been easy to play safe and avoid the risk of further criticism but the 27-year-old instead chose to take the bull by the horns and angled his mount through a narrow gap before streaking to success.

Townend arrived at the Kildare track with the mentality that what had happened in the past would stay there and he was at his brilliant best again aboard the gutsy Next Destination (5/4 favourite) in one of the finest rides you will see all week in the Grade One Novice Hurdle.

Unreal

When he galvanised Patricks Park (11/2) to take the Guinness Handicap Chase by a neck, he had completed his Lazarus-like recovery to record a 54/1 treble which he simply described as "unreal". It certainly was.

"The support from the crowd is brilliant. The racing gang really do come together when you are down. I have a good team behind me and a rock-solid man in Willie," Townend said.

Eleven-time champion trainer Mullins added: "It's fantastic for Paul, it just showed the mettle of the man, I just thought he was so cool after what happened yesterday, it might be a hard thing to do. We move on and Paul has forgotten about it, he's a man on fire.

"That was an amazing bit of riding on Next Destination. Paul's totally focused and it's paying off. What more can I say other than it's a fantastic day for him. That was a tough call there, especially with the horse on the inside of him going so well. Once he got him at it he needed to jump the last well. He got the horse in the right position at the last and then won. He's come back today and ridden as cool as he ever rides and that's how good he is."

As for Mullins, what he is achieving in National Hunt racing is unprecedented having amassed €5,061,850 in Irish prize money so far this season and overtaking Gordon Elliott by €48,161 in the trainers' title race.

Both Mullins and Elliott, who was without a winner yesterday and relinquished his long-time lead at the head of the trainers' standings, have gone over €10million in combined winnings which hasn't just raised the bar for success, it has obliterated it.

The bulk of that came from saddling the first two home in the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup with Bellshill being steered to success by the trainer's nephew David to come home just ahead of his son Patrick on Djakadam.

The runner-up was filling that position for the fourth successive year - he has also finished second twice in the Cheltenham equivalent - and while you have to admire the bridesmaid, it was all about the winner.

Anyone that was at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday would have found it hard to believe that of the eight Irish National finishers, any of them would make an assault on any other prize for the rest of the season such was the effort required to finish that slog.

Whether he can break Mullins' Cheltenham Gold Cup duck - he has been second six times in the blue riband - is another story but he showed enough to have his name firmly in the hat, even if that is 11 months away.

His jockey said of the success: "It is amazing how quickly things can turn around and it is great to get one here this week. That was Bellshill's first time in a proper Gold Cup over three miles against seasoned horses.

Confident

"He stepped up to the plate and you will find plenty of improvement next season. I was confident going down to the last that I was going to win 10 lengths and if I needed him.

"I felt I had that much horse, but as you see there, he is so idle when he hits the front. It is a bit of sickener to lose the Irish National but we have got something back here. He has the right attitude and, although he doesn't do enough when he hits the front.

"I am sure as he matures that will be ironed out. Graham Wylie (owner) gave me my first Grade One winner on Nichols Canyon and to get the opportunities for Willie this week when all the pressure is on for the championship is pretty special."

Such is the strength of the Mullins string and his ability to keep horses at their peak, he is turning a competitive Festival into a procession and success for Tornado Flyer (12/1) - ridden by Richie Deegan - led home a 1-2-3 for the all-conquering Closutton yard in the Racing Post Champion Bumper.

When Colreevy (7/4 favourite) landed the Grade Three Weatherbys General Stud Book Irish EBF Mares Flat Race under Patrick Mullins to conclude affairs, his father was in a position he couldn't have dreamed of.

"I didn't expect to be in front on Saturday, let alone on Wednesday," Willie said.

"It's been a fantastic day and everybody has been getting a slice of the cake, which is great."

Irish Independent

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