A view of the tribute to Davy Russell during the Leoparstown Races today. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
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Johnny Ward: Crowds return, Mullins lands treble and JP McManus tactics key

The first day of the four-day extravaganza was dominated by the champion trainer.

Updated at 19.50

AFTER TWO YEARS of this Festival with no crowds, little surprise there was a giddiness in the air at a chilly Foxrock – and backers of Willie Mullins were smiling more than most.

The first day of the four-day extravaganza was dominated by the champion trainer and it matters so much more when there are people to appreciate it all. The government was allowing 5,000 fans in 12 months ago but Leopardstown was reportedly so badly hit by staff essentially unable to work that it made the call itself: owners and members only for the four days.

The entry fee of €40 was a talking point today but those who put their faith in Mullins were soon being reimbursed. “If you smelted down his trophies,” said one hack at a chilly Leopardstown, “you’d have enough to make a battleship.”

Saint Roi’s success in the feature novice chase was a reward for Mullins targeting a Grade 1 with a maiden; for JP McManus’ decision to go along with Mullins; and for Mark Walsh’s agreeing to go along with McManus, who apparently felt they got the tactics wrong at Navan when Saint Roi was second to Fil Dor.

Fil Dor was odds-on here and, on a rather mixed afternoon for Gordon Elliott, barely got within ten lengths of Saint Roi, who he had in his pocket at Navan.

“Everything pretty much went right today,” said Walsh. “Fair play to JP: he thought at Navan I set it up for Fil Dor and today I decided to track him.

“Fil Dor made a mistake down the back and I knew Jack (Kennedy) was struggling then. My lad is hard on himself but fences suit him more.”

Walsh, more loquacious than is the norm, admitted: “A winner like this just takes the pressure off for the rest of the week.”

Mullins had already three winners at this stage. It remains to be seen if Sir Gerhard makes the Arkle this year but Saint Roi was still available at 16s for the race as the darkness closed in at Leopardstown. McManus, showing no signs of slowing down, has the favourite in Jonbon too.

“He’s not the biggest horse in the world but he jumps very efficiently. He’s also a lot more sensible over a fence than a hurdle,” Mullins said.

“He had a hurdle rating good enough to run in championship races but was probably not a champion hurdler himself.”

Lossiemouth may one day be a champion hurdler. Whatever about that, it is rare that you’re not even in January and you have a horse so utterly dominant in the juvenile division.

After her win at Fairyhouse, Mullins said it was a performance at odds with her rather workmanlike demeanor at home. This time, she was arguably even more impressive, and she was a 6-4 chance with the bookmakers for the Triumph post-racing.

There’s every chance she’ll be yet another odds-on shot in the Cotswolds and Paul Townend will go there full of confidence.

Indeed, Townend commented that “in a true-run race you’d see the true Lossiemouth” – so how good could she be, given she won this Grade Two by seven and a half lengths?

“I didn’t need to do much with her since Fairyhouse and likely she’ll come back here for the Dublin Racing Festival,” said Mullins.

“I’m very pleased with her and with Gala Marceau who ran on to be second.”

Mullins’ Dark Raven looks a lively outsider for the Ballymore after overcoming a long absence to win his maiden hurdle.

It was far from a summer’s day but the opening race going to a steed in the Coolmore colours at Leopardstown felt like more of a Flat meeting. High Definition is an absurdly talented addition to hurdling given his Flat rating and it is possible that the 350,000 guineas he cost a few months ago will turn out to be value.

“In fairness,” said trainer Joseph O’Brien, “when do you get a horse with the Flat rating he has going hurdling? He’s pretty exciting you’d have to say.”

The atmosphere seemed relatively reserved given the day that was in it, as the crowds braved a bitter breeze, though bookmakers reported business was brisk in the betting ring.

They got a result in the last too as Mullins’ odds-on shot Did I Ask You That was grabbed on the line by the Elliott-trained Pour Les Filles.

The gelding had been bought last year for £33,000 by one Davy Russell, who announced his retirement just before Christmas out of the blue. He’s no longer a jockey but Russell could pretty much put his hand to anything.

Mullins had to be content with just the treble so. Three days to go.

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