Irish Eyes: Mullins Sunday best
We have been spoiled with wall to wall high-class National Hunt action every weekend in Ireland for some time now and today is no different.
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The highlight at Punchestown is undoubtedly the John Durkan Chase, run in memory of the man who found the mighty Istabraq for JP McManus. Indeed, he would have been his trainer, were if not for his untimely death.
He was loved by all whose path he graced and it is apt that he is remembered in a race won by such stars as Florida Pearl, Native Upmanship, Beef Or Salmon, Kicking King, Imperial Call, Dorans Pride, Carvill's Hill and Dawn Run.
It may come as somewhat of a surprise to learn that Florida Pearl has been, heretofore, the only Willie Mullins-trained winner of this race but with Flemenstar ruled out today, this year's renewal has been effectively reduced to a match between the two Mullins trained runners, Arvika Ligeonniere and Sir Des Champs, plus the 2011 winner of this race, Rubi Light.
Arvika Ligeonniere is the odds-on favourite, mainly because he has had the benefit of a (winning) run under his belt this season and the fact that Ruby is in the saddle. However, Davy Russell is of course retained by Sir Des Champs' owners and Michael O'Leary's charge ran well when finishing second in this race on his seasonal debut last year.
The fact that Sir Des Champs can currently be backed at 15/8 is an insult to his chances, particularly when one considers the fact that he is 12lb well in with the favourite on ratings.
Whilst his three Grade One success have come at three miles and above, he has won twice at today's trip and twice over just one furlong further so he is no 15/8 shot this afternoon and at the prices, there is no doubt that the value lies with him.
As the weeks progress this column is beginning to resemble a Willie Mullins appreciation page but such is his dominance that he is simply impossible to ignore. A 45% strike-rate with his bumper runners in Ireland this season is simply astounding and a feat that no trainer in any sphere can match.
Black Hercules should enhance that stat with victory in the concluding race at Punchestown this afternoon. The gelded son of Heron Island was a facile winner of his point-to-point at Dromahane when he had Like it Hot ten lengths back in third.
Like It Hot subsequently made his debut in a Galway bumper at the end of October and went down by a mere nose so the form is holding up well. Both Willie and Patrick Mullins are chasing hat-tricks in the race, having taken it with Morning Assembly in 2012 and again last season with Sizing Tennessee and Black Hercules should not be opposed today.
A race that Mullins has dominated to an even greater extent is the feature down in Cork, the Grade Two Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase where he is chasing his sixth winner in the last seven runningss.
Today he is represented by Twinlight who was deeply impressive in the Grade Three Poplar Square Chase at Naas five weeks ago. He was merely fit enough to do himself justice on that occasion but he is rumoured to have come on significantly for that run. He is easily the best treated horse at the weights, seems at his best at this two mile trip, jumps brilliantly and goes on all types of ground.
He has never run at Cork but three of his five chase wins have come on right-handed tracks so the course will not prove a problem and he gets the nap vote today to continue Willie's winning run in the race.
In an attempt to move away from the Closutton team somewhat, the each-way selection falls on the Robert Tyner trained Daring Article in the two-mile six handicap chase at Punchestown.
A 125-rated hurdler, it took him seven runs over fences before he could win off a mark of 109 over three miles here in May. On deeper inspection of the form however, one discovers that those initial six runs over fences had been predominately on heavy ground and Darin Article improved for better ground and the application of a first time tongue-tie.
He was very smart over hurdles and easily accounted for yesterday's Navan winner Felix Youger at Cork one day so he is expected to make up for lost time over fences today. He still looks well treated off a mark of 117, has favourable ground conditions and most importantly, the tongue-tie is applied again today.