Mullins Powers To New Record With Sweet Sixteen

On the afternoon he was crowned Ireland’s champion trainer for 2014/2015, Willie Mullins completed his domination of this year’s Punchestown Festival with a double in the final day’s Grade 1s.

The mighty Annie Power bounced back to her best to win the Grade 1 Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Champion Hurdle under Ruby Walsh while Petite Parisienne captured the Grade 1 AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle.

Mullins finished the Festival with 16 wins, taking 10 of the 12 Grade 1 contests and saddling the runner-up in the other two. The previous record for wins at the Punchestown Festival – set by Mullins in 2013 – was 13.

“It has been a fantastic week and I’m lucky to have great staff who do all the work,” reflected Mullins, who picked a non Grade 1 as his standout moment of the Festival.

“I know the likes of Faugheen and Annie Power have been great but the highlight for me, the one we’ll take home with us, was Uncle Junior winning the FBD Chase for La Touche Cup at 14 years of age. Patrick (Mullins) enjoyed it and it was just fantastic stuff.”

Annie Power bounced back from her fall at the Cheltenham Festival in March to score at 2/9 in the Grade 1 Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Champion Hurdle under Ruby Walsh.

“It’s nice when you have horses like that to train, it makes it very easy. It took her a while to get over Cheltenham – initially everything was fine and she rode out fine but, when we asked her to stretch and do her work, it took her at least three bits of work and Ruby to get on her to make her stretch,” said Mullins.

“I was afraid that she had pulled ligaments, tendons or sinews in her neck because she felt fine but she wouldn’t let herself down to gallop. Ruby got up on her and I think she let herself down for him. It took two more bits of work before I was ready to bring her here but she has come right today.

“I will have to have a work with Rich (Ricci) about running her in France. She has done nothing all year and has had a very quiet season, so we need a few shillings!

“I’m just lucky to have her – she’s got everything – she has size, scope, a lovely deep girth and the temperament as well.

“The runner-up Analifet was running a fantastic race until she made a mistake at the second last.”

Ruby Walsh added: “She is obviously a little better going left-handed because she jumps out to her left. She made all and there was a strong old headwind down the back but she jumped well on the whole.

“I was being very certain about the last – I guess it’s a case of once bitten, twice shy! I was thinking at the second last ‘Happy days!’ because they were close behind and it would keep me honest at the last but then, all of a sudden, I could hear them dropping off and I was thinking ‘Oh Jesus, not again!’

“Definitely, she has lost a little bit of speed as she has got older but I wouldn’t mind that – she has a good cruising speed. She has had a very interrupted season. She had a little problem in December just before the Hatton’s Grace and we got her back for Cheltenham, where she had a crashing fall.

“She wasn’t sparking at Aintree time but, in the last 10 days, she has really come together and started to work like the mare she is. It’s great to have her back and it’s a pity that she has had such a light campaign, although we might go to France.

“She is very good but she still has a long way to go before I could call her a great. She’s not a Quevega yet.”

Petite Parisienne was partnered by Bryan Cooper to take the AES Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle in the colours of Gigginstown House Stud.

“She’s not the biggest mare in the world but she has some change of gear,” said Mullins. “I thought we might be in trouble at the fourth last as I thought Bryan might not get out but she showed great acceleration to get through.

“Bryan thought she would get further and I didn’t see any reason there why she wouldn’t. She wasn’t stopping and has a lovely relaxed way of racing. She’s another that could go to France and then we’ll have a think about next season.”

Bryan Cooper added: “I was moaning earlier on in the week that things weren’t going right but you could be in a lot worse positions. I am grateful for the year that I have had and it’s a bonus to get one on the board here.

“She is a tough filly and she loves that soft ground. She stays further as well and is only going to get better next year.

“Gigginstown have been so good to me. Even when I had my leg-break, they let me come back and ride all of the horses. Things haven’t gone right this week and I couldn’t thank them enough because they have been very good to me.

“I used to come home from racing and Robbie McNamara would be the one telling me what I was doing right and wrong. He was on the phone the other day after Don Cossack won and we couldn’t figure why I picked the wrong one. I wish him the best and he will get through this, definitely.”

Enda Bolger enjoyed a 1-2 in the opening Boomerang Animal Bedding Cross-Country Chase when Josies Orders, partnered by Nina Carberry, led home stablemate Federici.

The winner had been travelling well when coming down in Thursday’s FBD Chase for the La Touche Cup.

“Derek O’Connor thought they were a bit unlucky the other day,” said Bolger. “Josies Orders is only seven and this (banks racing) is going to be his future – we saw what Uncle Junior did as a 14-year-old this week! The second ran a good race as well.”

J P McManus’s Heathfield looks set to be a star staying chaser of the future and seeing off the Rebecca-trained Audacious Plan and Tom Scudamore to take the Ladbrokes Ireland Handicap Chase.

“He’s a smashing big old-fashioned type of chaser. He would have loved the Liverpool of old because he’s all about jumping,” said winning trainer Tony Martin. “Hopefully he is going to be a nice staying horse and we’ll have to see where he ends up. All those staying races would be an option and he has come into his own when going over three miles.

“Paul (Townend) is riding with great confidence and was very good on him.”

McManus and Tony Martin doubled up to win the Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase with another smart staying prospect in Gallant Oscar.

“He missed out on the English National and then Frank (Berry) and I thought the ground was a bit quick for him in the Scottish National,” said Martin. “The ground and trip were right for him and he always showed there could be a day like this in him. The Thyestes was his first run over fences and then he ran a excellent third at Cheltenham. I expect he’ll be put away for the summer now.”

CROWD

After attendance increases over the first four days, the inclement weather saw Saturday’s crowd for Family Day fall. The attendance was 16,802, compared to 29,042 in 2014.

The overall attendance for the 2015 Punchestown Festival was 99,729, compared to 106,689 in 2014

Dick O’Sullivan, Punchestown’s General Manager, commented: “We knew going in to this year’s Festival that we were heading for record figures over the first four days as our pre-sales of advance tickets, corporates and party packs were well above recent years. In fact our corporate sales have been moving towards the heady days of the economic boom.

“We never sell as many advance tickets for Family Day on Saturday and sadly the rain affected our walk-in attendance.

“It has been great racing and the highlights included a fantastic Bibby Financial Services Ireland Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday and the memorable battle between Jezki and Hurricane Fly in the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle on Thursday.

“Willie Mullins’ dominance has been incredible and perhaps that had an effect on some of the high-class horses from Britain coming over but we have been treated to some superb performances. People have come to Punchestown to see the likes of Faugheen, Un De Sceaux, Douvan and Annie Power and we look to have welcomed as many racegoers as ever from Britain to Punchestown this week.”

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