Thursday saw Willie Mullins extend his lead in the title race and Gordon Elliott will be hoping Samcro and others can get him back in the mix today. Tony Keenan looks back at yesterday and ahead to the big runners this afternoon...
"Mullins may be down for 22 runners today but that number could drop as the day goes on with three of his team having run earlier in the week; with the championship seemingly wrapped up, there may be no need to back them up quickly."
Willie Mullins - €5,467,775
Gordon Elliott - €5,043,627
Difference - €424,148 (Mullins led by €48,161 after Day Two)
Betting (with the Exchange)
Willie Mullins - 1.051/20
Gordon Elliot - 12.5
What happened yesterday?
They - the market makers - think it's all over and they might be right. Park Paddocks got Gordon Elliott off to the perfect start on Thursday with a win in the JLT Handicap Hurdle but that was soon cancelled out and more by Cadmium for Mullins in the next, bringing him to double figures for the meeting.
Better was to come as Faugheen won the Champion Stayers' Hurdle, making all under David Mullins, and he wasn't unbacked, returned at Betfair SP of 6.42 having been a general 9.08/1 shot in the morning. This will have to go down as one of Mullins' best training performances; not only did he return from a 665-day absence back in November but he also met with a mid-season lull after which some called for his retirement. Thankfully that was never really considered and while this was not peak-Faugheen that won the 2016 Irish Champion Hurdle, it hardly mattered. He may even belatedly go chasing next season!
If Faugheen is the past and the present, then Footpad is the present and the future and he continued his march up the chasing ranks with a facile victory in the Ryanair Novice Chase. That was the 12 winner of the festival for Mullins - he holds the record with 16 winners at the 2015 meeting - and remarkably all 12 were owned by different people.
Willie Mullins - Friday runners: 22
Mullins may be down to 22 runners today but that number could drop as the day goes on with three of his team having run earlier in the week; with the championship seemingly wrapped up, there may be no need to back them up quickly. He has six runners in the valuable novice handicap chase at 16:20 with Kemboy and Koshari among the most interesting; if his jumping holds up, Koshari looks well-treated on his Punchestown run where he split Invitation Only and The Storyteller.
The Champion Hurdle could settle the title once and for all and Melon is the leading fancy for Closutton; second in the Cheltenham equivalent, he has to prove he is as effective away from that track but remains unexposed and sets the standard. Coquin Mans may surprise as few after a fine effort at Fairyhouse last time when he did well to win having been keen for most of the race.
Scarpeta ran at the same Fairyhouse meeting on his previous start but his jumping was terrible from the outset and it was only his engine that got him into third; he should be in the shake-up for the 18:05 and there had been no signs of such poor hurdling on his previous starts, one of which was a fourth to Samcro.
Gordon Elliott -Friday runners: 17
Samcro has been called the saviour from early on this season and he will need to be all that and more if he is to get Elliott back into the lead today; even a win in the Champion Hurdle may not be sufficient as he would need to keep the Mullins runners out of the frame too. Some have Samcro down as a Gold Cup horse of the future but I'm not sure he wants to go that far as speed has been a feature of his last two wins and this drop in trip shouldn't be the reason he gets beaten.
If Faugheen is one of Mullins' best training performances, then the handling of Pallasator is up there for Elliott. Previously a quirky performer on the flat for Sir Mark Prescott, he has taken remarkably well to hurdling for his new yard despite being nine, improving markedly from his first run behind Next Destination at Naas in November. In an open Profile Systems Champion Novice Hurdle, he is the one to beat.
Of the remaining Elliott runners, the frustrating pair Squouateur and De Plotting Shed may be good for places if nothing better in the 16:20 while Synopsis is likely to be sent off as favourite for 16:55. Later on the card, Roaring Bull and Vengeful give him a strong hand in the second last.