It was not quite business as usual for Willie Mullins at Leopardstown: his Grade One treble came in at odds of nearly 40-1, which tells the story of two warm favourites who were turned over by stable companions. Galopin Des Champs, though, did what his starting price of 30-100 suggested he should, and his defeat of Statler – another Mullins runner – in the Irish Gold Cup means he will head to next month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup as the clear favourite for steeplechasing’s championship event.
Fury Road, an 18-1 outsider, was alongside Galopin Des Champs at the final fence before the favourite’s class started to tell, and one bookie briefly pushed him out to 15-8 (from 13-8) after his eight-length success. Mullins, though, saw only positives in his seven-year-old’s performance, with the promise of better yet to come from a horse with just six starts over fences to his name.
“He’s just a really good horse and hopefully we can build on that with an extra two furlongs [at Cheltenham],” Mullins said. “There never was [a doubt about the trip], I was amazed people were doubting [him because] he’d never won over three miles over fences. He won over three miles as a novice over hurdles, which is way harder than doing it over fences.
“What I love about him now is that he’s settling, Paul is able to put him wherever he wants and that’s crucial for tactics going forward. He used to be a little keen over shorter trips, but now he just settles and he’s able to put him to sleep. It’s just maturity, he’s matured in his mind and he’s settling in to being a proper racehorse.”
Mullins’s earlier victories, with Gala Marceau in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle and El Fabiolo in the Irish Arkle Novice Chase, both came at the expense of better-fancied stable companions. Lossiemouth, sent off at 1-3 for the Spring Juvenile Hurdle, was shuffled back on the inside rail at a vital stage and despite a brave late rally, she could not reel in Gala Marceau. El Fabiolo, meanwhile, stayed on strongly to win by 10 lengths with Appreciate It, Mullins’s 2021 Supreme Novice Hurdle winner and the 11-8 favourite, a nose behind Banbridge in third.
El Fabiolo was cut to around 9-4 second-favourite for the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham next month, while Lossiemouth remains favourite for the Triumph Hurdle at around 15-8 with Gala Marceau now 6-1 third-favourite.
For the first time in 10 starts, Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore are unlikely to head the market when they go to post for the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday, having surrendered their aura of invincibility with a third-place finish in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse last time.
Mullins’s State Man, who has improved with every start and remains unbeaten since a fall on his debut in December 2021, is the narrow favourite for Sunday’s race, but that could prove to be an over-reaction as Honeysuckle (3.10) is returning to her ideal trip and has several runs in the book that are more than a match for anything that State Man has achieved to date.
Mullins is likely to enjoy his usual dominance elsewhere on the card with Blue Lord (2.10) and Facile Vega (3.40) poised to complete a short-priced Grade One double, while Gaillaird Du Mesnil (1.40) is also a live contender for the Ladbrokes Novice Chase.
Blackmore has decent prospects on the undercard, with the progressive mare Maskada (2.40) likely to prove too strong for 22 rivals in the big handicap chase.