Punchestown has a little bit of everything

Mullins’ reality is what others can only dream about

Fastorslow on the way to winning the Gold Cup at Punchestown. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Daragh Ó Conchúir

Willie Mullins has brought his dominance to another level at Punchestown. He was crowned champion trainer for the 17th time on the final day of the Punchestown Festival yesterday. The depth of the talent at his disposal yields dividends anyone else can only dream of.

That the opposition takes the hyper-pragmatic view of taking early holidays or seeking alternative engagements only adds to the bounty, of course, and in many of the Grade 1 races, we could be thankful for the 17-time champion trainer pitching so many of his horses in against one another to give us contests worth viewing.

As Closutton broke more records last week, such as setting a new mark for prize money garnered, the spread of owners he was delivering for remained noteworthy. This is just one factor in the Mullins dominance, that rich people who view racing as the pastime they want to spend their money on look at who is winning at the big festivals and gravitate in that direction. So it was that of his 17 winners, 13 different sets of connections were represented.

​But 20 trainers tasted success, as well as 24 jockeys, and as we noted on these pages last week, there are plenty who know the time of day when landing on a good one. We highlighted the genius that is John Kiely in our preview, so we will just add that he is now known as the Dungarvan Disco King.

A Dream To Share made his own history on Wednesday by becoming the first Irish-trained horse this century to win five bumpers. The Race & Stay At Punchestown Champion INH Flat Race was a second straight Grade 1 after scoring at Cheltenham and a fourth success in the race for his legendary trainer, who will be 86 on Wednesday.

Young jockey John Gleeson has just turned 19 and sits his Leaving Cert in a few weeks but he galvanised a great effort from the horse bred by his father Brian, getting the better of the Mullins-prepped Tullyhill after a protracted duel.

That came just a half hour after perhaps the biggest surprise of the meeting in one of the most eagerly anticipated races of the Punchestown Festival, the Ladbrokes Gold Cup.

Martin Brassil spoke in this corner on Easter Sunday ahead of the Irish and Aintree Grand Nationals, which he had won courtesy of Numbersixvalverde. Fastorslow had just been touched off in a Cheltenham handicap for the second year in a row, with An Epic Song also narrowly denied. A short head, head and neck were the three margins of defeat.

The rain came at the wrong time for Panda Boy, who ran a cracker to be fifth in Fairyhouse. Longhouse Poet came a cropper early on at Liverpool, where Fastorslow’s Cheltenham conqueror, Corach Rambler, was as impressive a winner as had been seen in a while.

The unflappable Brassil takes the rough with the smooth and pitched Fastorslow in at the deepest end, against Cheltenham Gold Cup 1-2 favourite Galopin Des Champs and Bravemansgame, as well as Ryanair Chase victor Envoi Allen. Under a brilliant ride by JJ Slevin, the seven-year-old made steady headway from the penultimate obstacle and a brilliant jump at the last enabled him to take it up. Once more, Mullins had to settle for the bridesmaid’s role with Galopin Des Champs.

Colm Murphy has dined at the top table countless times but as quality dwindled, opted to take a sabbatical. The Wexford man returned after an absence of a little over two years, re-energised and with a crop of young horses. Impervious has been the flagbearer on his second coming and on Friday, the improving seven-year-old mare had wise owls talking of Gold Cups as she followed up her battling Cheltenham Mares’ Chase triumph with a cruise over the same opponents in the Hanlon Concrete Irish EBF Glencarraig Lady Francis Flood Mares’ Chase. Mullins saddled the second, third and fourth.

The disdain Mullins’ nephew Emmet has for convention is already well established. Feronily is the latest example, running in bumpers, hurdles and chases since being acquired after a point-to-point victory in November. He made his hurdling and chasing debuts in graded contests and on Tuesday, on just his second run over fences and at six years of age, the Getaway gelding gave the Grand National-winning trainer and his key ally, Paul Byrne, as well as jockey Donagh Meyler, a first Grade 1 success in the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase.

One can’t stress how against the norm the route taken with this horse has been. It is certainly not something Mullins Snr would do. The uncle had to settle for second, third and fourth.

​Another family flourished this week and all season, thanks to their association with the trainer extraordinaire of course. Paul and Jody Townend retained their respective jockeys’ championships after being among the winners during the week and it was a lovely end to a month that began with the death of their uncle, the well-respected former jump jockey Bob Townend.

Such is the East Cork family’s immersion in racing that the funeral was postponed by 24 hours until the day after Easter Monday, with Paul and Jody on duty at Fairyhouse and Cork respectively. Paul responded with an otherworldly ride to win the Irish Grand National on I Am Maximus.

Less than an hour later, Jody won the bumper at Cork on Straight Home, owned and trained by her father and Bob’s brother, Tim. The rainbow that emerged immediately afterwards brought a lump to the throat for sure.

So did the sight of Hannah Smullen getting the leg up on Dalton Highway in the Have The Conversation — Say Yes To Organ Donation Charity Race that brought the curtain down on Punchestown last evening. The eldest daughter of the late champion Pat Smullen, she was having her first ride in public to raise money for the Punchestown Kidney Research Fund on a horse her father had won on twice and that was trained by Pat’s long-time boss and mentor, Dermot Weld.

It was a week that had a little bit of everything.