Irish Eyes: Mullins family dominate
Last weekend was all about the Mullins family. Willie brought up his quickest ever century and by Sunday evening he had trained 101 winners from just 291 runners, giving him a phenomenal strike rate of 35%. This is put into perspective when one considers that Paul Nicholls leads the British trainers table but yet has 'just' 64 winners from 254 runners and a strike rate of 25%. Considering the proliferation of opportunities for jumpers in the UK compared to Ireland, Willie Mullins feat in an arguably more competitive sphere is nothing short of astonishing.
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If that weren't enough, Willie's son Patrick is now on the cusp of setting an all-time record for the number of wins in a calendar year as an amateur jockey in Ireland. Union Dues was the horse that enabled Patrick to equal Billy Parkinson's tally of seventy two wins, a record that has stood since before the formation of the state, having been set as far back as 1915.
On to the equine talent that have provided the Mullins with such a spectacular season to-date. We stated in last week's preview that 'Ponte Alexandre could be anything' but we now have a clearer explanation of just what 'anything' means, following his demolition of Don Cossack on is Irish debut. Make no mistake, this horse marked himself as something special when he proceeded to hack up in the Grade 1 Navan Novice hurdle on his Irish debut, and only his second lifetime start under any rules to boot! Admittedly, Don Cossack did fall but he has already been well and truly put in his placed by Ponte Alexandre at that stage, who proceeded to win by an eased down thirteen lengths.
At this stage of the season, it would appear that the Mullins team have a veritable embarrassment of riches in the novice hurdling division and Willie's biggest problem will be in keeping them all apart prior to the Cheltenham festival. The logical next port of call for Ponte Alexandre would be the Grade 2 Slaney Hurdle at Naas, but his stablemate Champagne Fever, who is also in the same ownership, has already been pencilled in for that race. It's a nice problem to have though and perhaps it will lead to more of the Mullins team taking in trials in the UK this season, prior to Cheltenham.
Boston Bob did not impress everyone coming under all sorts of pressure before finally prevailing by a mere half a length. This wasn't quite what his long odds-on supporters expected from the 1/5 shot but rather than disappointing me, I feel there is a chance he may just have held off a very decent novice in You Must Know Me. The pair finished a full thirty seven lengths clear of the third and both are given the benefit of the doubt for now. Henry De Bromhead's You Must Know Me will certainly be worth following on his next start (he holds an entry at Punchestown on New Year's Eve) after which time we will be better able to gauge their abilities
Union Dues displayed a fantastic turn of foot to win the Grade 2 Irish Form Book "Future Champions" bumper at Navan, beating some very good horses in the process.
The ground was heavy last Sunday but he was equally impressive on good to yielding around Killarney in July, so he has now proven that he can act on very different types of ground, that he goes left-handed and furthermore, that he can quicken up a hill. There's a hell of a lot to like about him as a Cheltenham Bumper prospect and the 12/1 about him for the race looks very fair.
However, enthusiasm about his chances must remain tempered by the fact that it remains very early in the season yet for these bumper types and most of the better horse may not have even seen a racecourse yet.
The horse to follow from Saturday's Fairyhouse meeting is definitely City Slicker. Well supported from 11/10 to 10/11 on the track, he confirmed the promise of both his debut and his €135,000 price tag in running out a very impressive winner of the bumper. John Magnier's charge is yet another Willie Mullins trained horse that may find himself contesting the Cheltenham bumper this season.
It would be remiss of us to look back on last week's action without noting that Ruby Walsh had a pretty good afternoon in the saddle at Navan as well, have collected 4 winners from just 4 rides! The fact that his feat appears to have been largely overlooked, merely proves that this sort of performance from Ruby in the saddle is nothing less than we have come to expect.
Finally, we recommended taking the 9/4 that was available about Flemenstar for the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown in last week's column. Those odds have since contracted to a top price of 13/8, which is still reasonable but that sort of price is still likely to be available on the day of the race and it may prove prudent to wait until next Friday before wading in again.