Sunday 18 March 2018

Mullins eyes Gold Cup entry for Trophy hero

Total Recall, with Paul Townend up, on the way to touching off Whisper to win the Ladbrokes Trophy in December Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Total Recall, with Paul Townend up, on the way to touching off Whisper to win the Ladbrokes Trophy in December Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Chris Cook

An old score was settled, after a fashion, when Willie Mullins sent out Total Recall for what will be recorded as the trainer's first success in the Ladbrokes Trophy, the race that was known for decades as the Hennessy.

Anyone whose racing memory goes back 15 years will be aware that the Irishman has actually won it before but his Be My Royal, first past the post in 2002, was eventually disqualified over a finding of morphine in his system, the result of contaminated feed.

For all his affability, Mullins is not a man to bend his knee to authority. Outraged by the verdict and insistent that there should be an allowed threshold for morphine, he engaged in a protracted legal battle that ended at the High Court four years later, the judges declining to interfere with the Jockey Club's ruling.

Time heals many things and Mullins is vastly more successful these days than he was at the time. But as he entered this winner's enclosure, he was surely full of satisfaction at the prospect of returning home to Carlow with a six-figure sum in English prize money.

"Hopefully we won't have any problems this time," was his wry response when Be My Royal was mentioned. The roll of honour will show Total Recall as the first Irish winner since 1980.

Mullins has had a famously poor record in English handicap chases over the past decade, largely a result of his good horses moving into that grade only after showing all their ability in better contests. Total Recall, however, dropped into his lap over the summer after the retirement of the horse's former trainer, Sandra Hughes, and it turns out that his official rating was rather lower than he deserves. A lesser man might have stayed quiet on that point and let everyone assume he was simply a better trainer. Instead, Mullins complimented Hughes for bringing the horse along patiently and suggested that, had she kept going, she might well have won next year's Irish National with him.

Total Recall might be a top-class performer by the time that race is run on Easter Monday. Mullins wants to give him an entry in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and will decide if the horse should be flying that high after he runs next, possibly in January's Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park. The result was a setback for one press room grandee, who called Total Recall the worst-looking horse in the paddock. "If I was on a day's hunting and they produced that thing for me, I'd turn my nose up," he remarked. But he readily conceded that, in long-distance steeplechasing, handsome is as handsome does.

It was only in the final strides that a late thrust up the far rail carried Total Recall past Whisper, who also lost the RSA Chase at the Festival in heartbreaking circumstances as his stablemate Might Bite rallied past him. "He didn't stop, the other one went faster," said Whisper's trainer, Nicky Henderson, which is a supportive thing to say, even if it seems unlikely to be borne out by close analysis.

A winning favourite in their first year of sponsorship ought to have been a bad result for Ladbrokes but I regret to report that the race was not a loser for them, thanks to the money that came for American. He was never travelling after a mistake at the water and was eventually pulled up.

Coneygree, the 2015 Gold Cup winner, continues to perform a long way below his best, being pulled up at the top of the straight. He was reported to have made a noise and a breathing operation now seems likely. He had helped force a strong pace for more than a circuit and it seems significant that other front-runners, like Cogry, Double Ross and Southfield Royale, were also pulled up. Even the second wave of pacesetters, Potters Legend and Missed Approach, got tired well before the finish.

Henderson might have been better off at Newcastle, where his Buveur D'Air was hardly out of a canter to win the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. An hour later, the trainer's Beware The Bear took the Rehearsal Chase, with Sean Bowen doing wonders to stay aboard as his saddle slipped towards the horse's tail.

The up-and-coming Bryony Frost resumed her run of Saturday successes with an accomplished performance on Old Guard at Newbury. It was fascinating to see Paul Nicholls giving her four rides on such a high-profile card.

"She's ridden those two chases brilliantly today," Nicholls said. "She rides well, she uses her head, she's so tactically aware. She's got a lot of talent and you can see why we're using her."

Frost is one of a strong team of jockeys at the Ditcheat stable, taking advantage of the absence through injury of Sam Twiston-Davies. Nicholls expects him to be out for another couple of weeks.

The trainer also ascribed this victory to a wind operation Old Guard had in the summer. "That's why I do such a lot and why it's such a success and why I'm never afraid to say that it's been done," Nicholls continued, addressing a subject of recent controversy. "The transformation in a horse like him has been phenomenal.

"For all those people that are negative about it, there are good positives about a breathing op and it's not a problem to let people know it's been done. Doesn't make any difference to me or anybody. That all wants putting to bed. It's a positive for a lot of horses." Observer

Sunday Indo Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport