Sunday 24 March 2019

Patrick Mullins: ''Machine' cranked up for one last hurrah but Un De Sceaux shows no signs of slowing down'

 

William Henry (R), with Nico de Boinville up, crosses the line to win the Coral Cup ahead of Wicklow Brave and Patrick Mullins yesterday. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
William Henry (R), with Nico de Boinville up, crosses the line to win the Coral Cup ahead of Wicklow Brave and Patrick Mullins yesterday. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Patrick Mullins

"Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day,

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Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Dylan Thomas, 1947

The end comes for every champion. Faugheen is past his wondrous prime, of that there is no doubt. He won the Champion Hurdle four years ago and the world has moved on. Since then his body has betrayed him on numerous occasions as the great engine within has struggled to roar like it once did.

Last season, however, there were flashes of the old Machine. Two Grade One victories bookended a campaign that manipulated our emotions and his triumph at Punchestown, by 13 lengths from the Stayers' Hurdle winner Penhill showed all was not lost, just yet.

In Leopardstown, he was giving chase to the young shooting star that is Apple's Jade when he fell, like a horse shot in a John Wayne western, at the second last.

The first fall of his career, and almost his last. He lay prone for several agonising moments before slowly, ever so slowly, rising to his feet.

Ruby Walsh says he hadn't pulled the trigger so we don't know if he'd have hit the bullseye or fired a blank. Nevertheless, while it took him some time to get over hitting the canvas, he is now bouncing. Mentally and physically, he seems much better than this time last year when Willie reached for cheekpieces in a desperate throw of the dice.

The last 11-year-old to win the Stayers' was Crimson Embers in 1986. Which means history is against us. However, Faugheen has always tantalised the imagination.

Picture the noise, colour and emotion if he could, possibly, perhaps, just maybe, stride into that famous amphitheatre victoriously one more time, his flame burning bright deep into the winter of his career.

If Ruby and Willie can pull this one off they'll be on a par with the Brothers Grimm as the greatest authors of fairytales ever seen.

Un De Sceaux is more Prodigy than poetry and this Firestarter shows zero signs of slowing down. Thirty starts, 22 victories, five seconds, two falls and one unplaced. Nine Grade Ones including two at the Festival. It's a record from out of space. Eleven years old but not interested by it, an equine Mick Jagger (for those too old for the Prodigy), he's still rocking and rolling. On his last two starts, he stuck it to the mighty Altior at Sandown and smacked Douvan up at Punchestown.

Seemingly powered by a mixture of Red Bull wings and Duracell bunnies, his jockeys often appear like men riding a barrel at sea, holding on for dear life, with minimal power over direction or speed.

The ground has come in his favour, a good omen, and you can be sure he won't give his rivals a chance to breathe at any stage through the race today.

However, Ruby has chosen Footpad. The step up in trip will suit, he won over 2m4f as a four-year-old, but he has had a punctuated season. However, I'd be in the blue corner.

Both these old campaigners travel over with fire in their bellies but whether Faugheen or Un De Sceaux can illuminate this theatre once again, where broken dreams vastly outnumber the legends created, remains to be seen. But we're about to find out.

I ride Bacardys in the Stayers' and I think he is over-priced. He would have been third here last year only for sliding on landing at the last.

I also throw my leg over Livelovelaugh in the Kim Muir. He has a lot of weight and I just wonder whether this trip will stretch his stamina but he should run well.

Wicklow Brave is a character. At home, when all the other horses are working in pairs and going in order, Jason Dear lets him go when he wants, and always alone.

Yesterday, I dropped him out last, humoured him. He hurdled spectacularly and loved passing beaten horses, growing with confidence all the way. We winged the second last and I decided to let him continue to roll forward, aware that he was enjoying himself and loathe to break his momentum.

I hoped the leader would take us over the last but he stopped quickly. Down to the last, a good stride, land and away. But I know we are no longer going forward, we're holding on with our fingernails. I can see the line but I can feel the others inching closer, trying to wrest victory from our grasp. A head appears on my right. We're still in front. The line is closer but still too far away. I can see a jockey in blue now. Closing. And then, in the last stride, on the line, in the final millisecond, defeat. I knew straight away.

As beautiful a feeling as winning here is, getting beat is ugly. Second is second. I'm proud of Wicklow, a horse with a CV few can match but gutted we didn't add to it. Today is another day though. We go again.

Patrick's Picks

Un De Sceaux, 2.50

Bacardys, ew 3.30

My Sister Sarah, 4.50

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