WILLIE Mullins and Ruby Walsh had a spectacular afternoon last Saturday at Auteuil where they captured both of the graded events in style. Un De Sceaux dominated the Prix La Barka from a long way out and Footpad came with a sweeping late run in the straight to stun local fans by toppling the odds-on favourite Device in the very final stages of the Prix Questarabad.
Riding Auteuil like an old hand, Walsh used very different tactics on his winning rides, picking up a handsome total of €139,500 in prize money. Un De Sceaux was running over 4300 metres (2m 51/2f) for the first time and he appears to excel when he returns to his country of birth, where he is now unbeaten in five races.
His victory in the Grade 2 La Barka was eye catching to say the least. Not satisfied with the pace early on, Walsh took the race on after jumping the fifth hurdle and led his 12 rivals a merry dance.
A little pressure was applied after the penultimate jump and Un De Sceaux surged clear to win by eight lengths from Le Grand Luce, who he had previously beaten two and a half lengths in the Prix Leon Rambaud in 2014 which, until the Barka, was his last outing over hurdles.
“We had doubts about the distance today and that’s why we came. It was a very good performance and he jumped and stayed well,” Walsh said. Colm O’Connell, son of the winning owner Edward, added: “The return to hurdles has given him confidence and the going (very soft) was perfect. I think he will stay further but the decision is for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh.”
Un De Sceaux was back at home on Monday and Mullins said he was in good form: “He appears to have taken the race well but I just want to wait a little longer to see how he has come out of the Barka. He was staying on well and deserves his chance in the Grande Course de Haies (on June 12th). We are keen to go back.”
Judging by his performance last Saturday, Un De Sceaux has every chance of staying the extra four furlongs for the distance of France’s top hurdle (3m 1½f). Ptit Zig stayed on to take fourth place for trainer Paul Nicholls. “He was a little clumsy over the hurdles today and that cost him ground at the end. I will fit him with blinkers when he comes back for the Grade 1 in three weeks’ time. The distance will suit Ptit Zig but he must jump better next time,” said Nicholls.
Jean-Paul Gallorini said of the runner-up Le Grand Luce: “He ran very well and was giving weight to the winner (2¼lb). The Grande Course is not over the same distance so we will see.”
Katie Walsh and Thousand Stars were beaten about 23 lengths back in ninth place and the 12-year-old never looked like taking a place in the frame.
Ruby Walsh was patient with Footpad in the Prix Questarabad, not asking any serious question of the four-year-old until rounding the final turn where Device and James Reveley still appeared to have plenty in reserve. Footpad made a slight mistake over the last but rallied on the flat to collar Device in the final few strides to win by a short neck. The Nicholls-trained Zubayr finished third with Sam Twiston-Davies but the pair were out-paced after the last.
French-bred Footpad was winning his first race in his birth place. Walsh said afterwards: “We were a little outpaced early on but this was an impressive run and both the longer distance and softer ground were a help. He’s a good horse and will be an exceptional one next year.”
Mullins is almost certain to send Footpad back to Autueil for the Grade 1 Prix Alain du Breil on June 12th, but this will not be the target for Zubayr. “He still lacks a little experience and my idea is to bring him back in November for the Prix Renaud du Vivier (Grade 1) so I am unlikely to have a horse for the Alain du Breil,” commented Nicholls.
Guillaume Macaire offered no excuses for Device, saying: “With a little bit of this and a little bit of that it could have been another race.”