Sensational Mullins father-and-son treble leaves Elliott on the floor in title race
Patrick Mullins probably won his father Willie a tenth successive trainers' title by sensationally winning both Grade Ones, as part of a personal treble, at a heaving Punchestown yesterday.
The amateur partnered Wicklow Brave to a shock win in the Champion Hurdle, before a stunning steer saw Bacardys home by a short head in the Grade One novice hurdle.
The treble was completed via Montalbano in the other novice hurdle before a crowd of over 30,000. Mullins now leads Gordon Elliott by €91,295.
His son trails Jamie Codd by two in the amateur riders' race, having looked hopeless when five behind yesterday morning. His day in Neverland began with the feature race, his father finally winning one of the four €250,000 Grade Ones after two near-misses earlier in the week.
This was replete with drama before it began: three potentially doubtful starters with their own quirks included the winner.
It concluded with Wicklow Brave (12/1) holding on like a mouse scurrying into a hole as the cat flung a last-moment claw - "running on fumes" as the rider said afterwards. Before that, the amateur was struggling to restrain Wicklow Brave mid-race and was left with two choices.
"Once he was enjoying himself, I let him enjoy himself. I didn't think he was going mad fast, so I let him go to the front," explained the Irish Independent columnist. "His jumping won him the race."
Wicklow Brave, Labaik and Diakali were at the tape beforehand like tourists in North Korea trying to escape government minders. There looked to be more men than horses at the start, Elliott formulating a plan for the notoriously obstinate Labaik which involved the shaking of a bottle. He consented to partake.
Diakali had decided he did not fancy it and was withdrawn, but Wicklow Brave set off in rear and came home in front.
With Vroum Vroum Mag running out of gas long before she got to her destination, it was left to My Tent Or Yours, Arctic Fire, Labaik and Brain Power to chase home the winner, with My Tent Or Yours second in a big one again.
Arctic Fire's third ensured Mullins took the lead in the trainers' title race.
"He won the Leger from the front and Patrick really got him jumping down the back," the winning trainer said. "He really pinged hurdles and was gaining lengths. I thought he was caught maybe turning after the second last, but he got a right good jump at the last. I wasn't thinking of the trainers' title there, more Patrick."
That lead became one Elliott will find really difficult to reverse after Bacardys got up on the line to grab Finian's Oscar. The 10/1 chance returned to his best to halt a winning run of the runner-up, which went as low as 1/33 in running.
"I thought the race was over when Robert Power hit the front but once again he measured the last and he got up. I thought it was a fantastic ride. Two Grade Ones in just over half-an-hour - what a day," said the trainer.
"I wouldn't let him ride if he weren't good enough. He's able to think out a race in mid-race and change plans. He's just very good."
The victory of Montalbano (11/4) was extraordinary, as Riven Light looked all over a winner under Ruby Walsh, only for his stablemate to rally and regain a lead he had for much of the race.
Mullins Snr admitted Patrick was on the most fancied runner here, in pursuit of his own crown, and is now two just behind Codd.
This was Ruby’s eighth second of the week, having had just one winner, and he quipped: “I’m possibly getting Willie over the line with all these seconds.”
Definite Ruby (7/1) convincingly achieved back-to-back wins in the mares’ handicap, after which Gordon Elliott spoke about Davy Condon joining his team of training lieutenants following the departure of assistant Olly Murphy.
Jessica Harrington recorded the stable’s fifth winner of the week, generally well-punted ones at that, when Woodland Opera scored at 11/4 favourite in the first handicap chase.
This was some reward for the patience of those who bred off the brilliant mare Opera Hat, which up until Woodland Opera had bombed at stud.
Again Robbie Power did the steering, getting a determined finish out of the winner, which foiled another gamble on Arbre De Vie, superbly steered by Walsh (pictured).
“There is a lovely story behind him,” said Harrington. “He’s the only progeny out of Opera Hat to win a race. Patrick (Cooper) found her in England barren, bought her and presented her to his mother Christmas Day.”
The Mark Fahey-trained Das Mooser won the opening hunter chase at 11/2, while it was sad to see the legendary hunter On The Fringe struggle again, but winner Balnaslow (4/1) was not scoring out of turn. Canardier (8/1) landed a gamble in the finale for Dermot McLoughlin.