WilllowWarm Gold Cup Chase (Grade 1)

FLAME Bearer will go down in the history books as a record-breaking winner for more reasons than one in the career of Willie Mullins through his gutsy victory in the Grade 1 WillowWarm Novice Chase.

It brought up the 16-time champion trainer’s 213th winner of the season - setting a new record for most winners in a season for a National Hunt trainer in Ireland. Mullins was beating his own remarkable benchmark of 212 from 2017/18.

There was further history as it meant an eighth winner on Easter Sunday for the Closutton team. A total of five winners at Fairyhouse and three at Cork saw Mullins beat his own previous record for most winners on a single day, eclipsing the seven he achieved most recently between Leopardstown and Limerick last December.

Mullins’ fifth straight win in the Grade 1 event came in somewhat subdued circumstances, though, with the race marred by a fatal injury to four-time Grade 1 winner Mighty Potter when coming down at the 10th fence and hampering Brides Hill.

That left six runners in the contest proper - all of which were trained by Mullins - and Flame Bearer, sent off at 17/2, showed plenty of heart to see off a spirited effort from a back-to-form Sir Gerhard in second by half a length for owners Linda Mulcahy and Mary Wolridge.

Appreciate It hung under pressure in the straight and finished four and a quarter lengths behind the runner-up.

Winning rider Sean O’Keeffe, who was recording the second Grade 1 success of his career after landing last year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on The Nice Guy, said: “It’s amazing to get another Grade 1. A big thanks goes to Willie and his owners for the opportunities.

“The plan was to be positive and let him flow in a rhythm. He doesn’t like to be interfered with too much so it was just a matter of trying to get a couple of breathers into him to hold onto enough. He stuck his neck out and dug really deep for me late on.

“A few horses who went to Cheltenham have probably underperformed a bit today, and this horse didn’t run there this year. It’s taken a little while for him to get together and his jumping has improved through the season.”

Mullins was not present at the track as he recovers from a recent hip surgery, but his assistant trainer David Casey was impressed by the winner’s round of jumping.

Asked whether Flame Bearer could be a candidate for next year’s Ryanair Chase, Casey said: “Hopefully. Why not? We’ll aim for the stars. He’s a decent horse, but he probably wouldn’t have been my first choice though his win last time at Thurles was very good. If you have a novice who is jumping well in front, it’s a huge help.”

The Gordon Elliott team on course were visibly upset by the loss of Mighty Potter, who had long been the apple of his trainer’s eye.

“That’s the game we’re in; you’ve got to keep your head up and keep going,” said Elliott.

“It’s heartbreaking to lose a horse like him, but we won’t lie down. I’ve got good owners behind me and good staff. It’s hard for Andy and Gemma Brown, and Caldwell Construction. They’re a big part of Cullentra and we’ll get behind them and we’ll find them another one.”