WILLIE Mullins was in dominant form on St. Stephen’s Day registering a treble on the opening day of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival to complement Tornado Flyer’s surprise, albeit impressive victory in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.
The triumvirate of Leopardstown winners all look Cheltenham Festival-bound with Ferny Hollow (164) producing the best time performance on the day with an all-the-way win in the Racing Post Novice Chase to end the winning sequence of Riviere D’Etel.
Paul Townend sent the son of Westerner straight to the lead and, after sauntering through the opening couple of furlongs, pressed the accelerator pedal after passing the stands.
A comparison against the truly run handicap from the first fence on the circuit illustrates how the champion jockey put his market rival under pressure as his partner produced a series of accurate jumps. After the short run to the first in the back straight, the gap between the two races was 18 lengths, growing to 24 lengths by the fourth last at the end of the back straight.
The gap closed to 15 lengths at the line as handicap chase winner Grange Walk (137) posted a strong finishing effort from the fourth last, stopping the clock at 82.8 seconds in comparison to Ferny Hollow’s 85.4 seconds.
Riviere D’Etel (162) kept galloping all the way to the line and lost little in defeat in a result determined by narrow margins. There may be precious little to separate the pair if they meet again in the Arkle at Cheltenham in March.
It is unlikely the John Ryan-trained Grange Walk would have produced such a good finishing effort if asked to run faster earlier in the contest, but this was a career best time-figure by the six-year-old who is undoubtedly improving. I would estimate the son of Thewayyouare would have crossed the line at around the same time as Coeur Sublime (148) in the reduced race.
Sir Gerhard (134+) experienced little more than an exercise canter to open his account over hurdles, a display which was reflected in his time-figure. However, when allowed to stride on after the third last, the six-year-old was fastest, posting a closing effort of 86.3 seconds.
Fil Dor (120) was the closest in terms of closing sectionals as he stopped the clock at 87.3 seconds. However, his overall time was the slowest of the hurdle races on the day as he continues to impress visually without convincing on the clock.
The opening maiden hurdle produced the best overall time over hurdles and the race also stands up to scrutiny when the opening exchanges are removed as Watch House Cross (130) (88.9) would have also beaten all but Sir Gerhard in a shortened race from the first hurdle on the circuit.
The early pace was the strongest of the day over obstacles so, as there was not a great deal to separate the first six home, I would suggest they should all be winning races in the future.
To complete the analysis of the hurdle races, The Greek (119) emerged on top of Belgoprince (119) in a titanic struggle to register his first success on his handicap debut; Gordon Elliott’s five-year-old covered the ground from the third last hurdle in 88.1 seconds.
Facile Vega (144+) completed the Mullins treble with a strong time performance in the concluding bumper, posting a faster overall and shortened race time when adjusted for jumping the hurdles.
The reduced race time is particularly noteworthy as it was 4.9 seconds quicker than Sir Gerhard and substantiates the four-year-old’s closing effort of 84.6 seconds. The son of Walk In The Park will likely head to the Dublin Racing Festival before a clash with American Mike, who he looks at least the equal of judged on this performance, at Cheltenham in March.
THE ground at Limerick’s Christmas festival is notoriously testing, although it didn’t stop Master McShee (157) delivering Paddy Corkery Grade 1 success in the Faugheen Novice Chase.
The seven-year-old showed the benefit of his chasing debut behind Bob Olinger with a proficient round of jumping in a good time-figure in the prevailing conditions. To support the overall race time difference between the Grade 1 and a handicap chase on the card, a smaller extract of the races confirms the gap as heading towards 60 lengths.
The final piece in the jigsaw is the closing sectional of 79.4 seconds which was 2.5 seconds faster than the comparison race winner Earth Furies (97).
Having raced exclusively over two miles as a hurdler, Master McShee looks capable of exceeding his achievements as he steps up in trip over fences judged on this performance.
Farouk D’Alene (157) was carried out on his shield and looks set to take high rank amongst the leading novice chasers, especially when granted a stiffer test of stamina in the mud.
The hurdle races were run at varying degrees of pace early which hides the good performance of Doctor Churchill (130+) in the opening contest.
A view of the hurdle races from the first obstacle in the home straight reverses the overall times with Gordon Elliott’s juvenile proving best courtesy of a stunning finishing effort of 69.8 seconds from the third last which was 6.8 seconds or 34 lengths faster than Rebel Ivy (118) (76.6) who posted the next best closing effort.
Wetherby also raced in attritional conditions with Good Boy Bobby (140) having to dig deep into his stamina reserves to land the Rowland Meyrick Chase in a slow-motion finish.
The overall race time when adjusted for distance was surpassed by Schiehallion Munro (150) who also posted a far superior finishing effort. However, my suspicion is Nigel Twiston-Davies’s gelding’s natural enthusiasm for racing saw him put more into the early exchanges than ideal in the conditions.
This is partially confirmed by a shortened view of the race as the Rowland Meyrick winner was 14 lengths quicker than Micky Hammond’s handicap chase winner through the early part of the final circuit.
However, the handicap chase took precedence hereafter as Buster Valentine (146) towed his field along at a pace which saw the deficit eroded and a 10-length lead established by the first fence in the home straight.
Schiehallion Munro and Mr Whipped (141) joined battle with Mark Walford’s gelding from the third last with the former seeing the trip out best of the main protagonists to complete the closing sectional from the last fence jumped in the back straight in 112.6 seconds, a staggering 13.6 seconds faster than Good Boy Bobby who covered the same ground in 126.2 seconds.