Ireland’s champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins dominated on Day 1 of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown Racecourse in Dublin, Ireland, but it was his training rival Gordon Elliott who took the big prize, the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup.
Elliott, who fielded two of the eight runners in the €250,000 Grade 1 race, took a second victory in the race when 18/1 chance Conflated finished strongly before seeing off all potential late challengers, to give jockey Davey Russell the win in the colours of Gigginstown House Stud, which is owned by the CEO of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary.
The English challenger Frodon (11/2) took up his customary position at the head of the race from flag fall, but was challenged shortly afterwards by last year’s winner Kemboy (3/1), who always looked as though he was comfortable throughout.
As Frodon’s challenge began to weaken, Kemboy was soon under pressure as last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Minella Indo (11/2) and Janidil (7/1) both began their challenge. With the eventual winner Conflated clear heading to the last fence, Russell allowed his mount to jump at his ease. Despite the best effort of Minella Indo, he was never unable to get to Conflated, who was also a second Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup for the rider Davy Russell.
Willie Mullins dominated the remainder of the Grade 1 races. The Closutton handler took the opening three Grade 1 races of the four Grade 1 racecard, with two of the winners ridden by his main stable jockey Paul Townend and the other by Mullins’ nephew, Danny
The Irish-bred gelded son of Flemensfirth, Minella Cocooner (11/1), put Mullins in the winner’s enclosure for the first of numerous times on the afternoon, as he won the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors ‘€50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff’ Novice Hurdle over 2 miles.
Ridden by the winning conditioner’s nephew, Danny, the Minella Cocooner held off the challenge of the Gordon Elliott-trained pair, Minella Crooner (100/30) and Hollow Games (9/4f) in second and third places respectively.
Thirty minutes later and the champion handler was back in the number one position as the French import Vauban (9/4) impressively took the Grade 1 €125,000 Racing TV €12 Per Month For This Weekend Only Juvenile Hurdle over 2 miles, with Paul Townend in the saddle, in what was a double for the Cork-born rider.
The Rich Ricci-owned four-year-old chestnut was an easy three length victor over the favourite Fils Dor (6/5), with another two and three-quarter lengths further back to Il Etait Temps in third place.
The winner is now a short-priced favourite for the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham, England, next March where he is likely to again face many of today’s rivals.
Mullins had the upper hand on his great training rival Gordon Elliott, when Blue Lord (5/2) out-battled Riviere D’etel (2/1f) in the home stretch of the Grade 1 Patrick Ward & Co Solicitors Irish Arkle Novice Steeplechase over a distance of 2 miles and one furlong.
Riviere D’etel started the race as favourite as the mare had a 9 pound advantage in the weights. Second on her previous start over course and distance at Christmas, the Jack Kennedy-ridden five-year-old looked comfortable until an error at the final fence.
This gave Paul Townend and Blue Lord the advantage, and with momentum in their favour they took the lead one hundred yards from the wire. Once Kennedy and Riviere D’etel regained their composure, the pair challenged again, failing by only half a length at the line, despite the eventual winner having crossed her running line close home. Despite a stewards’ enquiry, the result stood, giving Townend a big race double and trainer Mullins a treble.
Sunday is Day 2 of the Dublin Racing Festival with another 4 Grade 1 contest among the eight race card, with the reigning Cheltenham Champion Hurdler Honeysuckle putting her unbeaten record on the line in the Grade 1 Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle.
Photo: Dublin Racing Festival, Leopardstown Racecourse