WATCH: Footpad bolsters his burgeoning reputation with commanding Arkle win at Leopardstown
Footpad cemented his place at the head of the Arkle market (10/11 favourite from 11/8) at next month's Cheltenham Festival with a scintillating display of jumping to take the Grade 1 Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice.
Willie Mullins' charge made it three wins from three chase runs – and the Closutton handler's second win on day one of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown – making all the running under Paul Townend to justify his 4-9 favourite's tag and come home five lengths from Petit Mouchoir.
Old foes from their hurdling days, Footpad and Petit Mouchoir dominated the betting and the race itself, always first and second, but in the end Footpad’s superior jumping and his race fitness, made all the difference.
Winning jockey Townend could not have been more impressed, he said: “He jumps like a stag, you’d swear he’s jumping fences all his life. It was a great thrill riding him, he was deadly! I thought it was a really good performance and he did it the hard way, making all his own running.”
Davy Russell, rider of the runner-up, Petit Mouchoir, said: “We were a bit disappointed because at the start of the season we thought we had the best but it seems there’s one better than us. He made two early mistakes and that put manners on him.”
The pair finished 19 lengths clear of the third horse home, Any Second Now.
Mullins admitted it had not been the plan to make all, but felt his charge had posted a fine effort.
He said: "He did it the hard way and jumped well in front. I think he pecked a bit at the last, but it was a very good performance.
"We didn't set out to make it, but Paul wasn't happy there was enough pace so he went on.
"We are heading for the Arkle unless something else changes."
He added: "Footpad was fourth in a Champion Hurdle, but we thought he would be going two and a half miles or more over fences. The first day he jumped he was very good and when you can jump, you can go any trip."
Townend said: "We didn't hang around and kept it up. He jumped super and came up for me at the last when he was very long and got to the other side. He jumps like a stag, you'd swear he's (been) jumping fences all his life. It was a great thrill riding him, he was deadly!
"I thought it was a really good performance and he did it the hard way, making all his own running."
Mullins also saddled Demi Sang, who crashed into the first fence and eventually came home last of the four finishers.
He said: "Demi Sang made a hash of the first fence and lost his confidence a bit, so David (Mullins) tried to get him back jumping and he did.
"It would be hard to see him competing at Grade One level over two miles, so he'll probably have to drop down a grade or go out in trip. I would prefer to go out in trip, but we'll have a word with Frank (Berry) and JP (McManus) and see what they want to do."
Davy Russell, rider of the Henry de Bromhead-trained Petit Mouchoir, felt a bit deflated in defeat.
He said: "We were a bit disappointed because at the start of the season we thought we had the best, but it seems there's one better than us.
"He made two early mistakes and that put manners on him."