Total Recall digs deep for Townend to set Newbury record straight for Mullins
The gutsy Total Recall ended an Irish drought dating back to 1980 with a thrilling victory in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury and trainer Willie Mullins will now consider if his charge is up to Gold Cup class.
The eight-year-old got up close home to collar Whisper and become the first winner from these shores in the prestigious staying handicap, formerly known as the Hennessy, since Bright Highway.
It was also sweet for Mullins as his Be My Royal passed the post first in 2002, only to be later disqualified after testing positive to a banned substance caused by contaminated feed.
Singlefarmpayment was just getting into contention when he fell three out and Whisper hit the front with Total Recall hot on his heels. Nicky Henderson's runner looked like landing the big prize, but Paul Townend got a great run out of the 9/2 favourite to get up and win by a neck. Regal Encore was nine lengths away in third, with Braqueur D'Or fourth.
Mullins - who will give the winner a Cheltenham Gold Cup entry - paid tribute to Total Recall's previous trainer Sandra Hughes.
"I think a lot of the credit must go to Sandra Hughes, who used her father's (Dessie Hughes) training methods and let this horse progress very slowly," he said. "Sandra retired, we just got the benefit of it.
"Paul was fantastic. He was very cool. I thought he was beaten going to the last, but he switched sides and got a different run on the other side, it worked a treat.
"It's a tough race for the Irish to win, why I don't know. It is a race that any jumps trainer wants to win. It's a fantastic race and we have just got to hold on to it this time.
"It (Be My Royal) was very disappointing at the time, but hopefully that is laid to rest."
The disappointments of the race were 2015 Gold Cup winner Coneygree with connections now considering a breathing operation, and long-time ante-post favourite American, which was pulled up after a series of errors.
At Newcastle, all eyes were on Henderson's reigning Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D'Air and the JP McManus-owned gelding did what was expected of him with the smoothest of wins in the Unibet Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
Henderson said: "It was good and he did what he had to do. Anything else would have probably been disappointing. Thank goodness it is over and done with - I'd have thought the Christmas Hurdle will now be the plan."