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Dublin: 6°C Saturday 27 February 2021

Johnny Ward: A popular treble falls short in Scotland and more Mullins greatness at Leopardstown

Kemboy and Monkfish both caught the eye at Leopardstown.

A general view of the runners and riders at Leopardstown today.
A general view of the runners and riders at Leopardstown today.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

IF NOTHING ELSE, a life of punting horses throws up plenty to talk about.

On the eve of day two of the Dublin Racing Festival, day one having produced a scatter of remarkably impressive winners of top-rung races, WhatsApp was a hive of rumour about three horses – a popular treble.

Was it the hotpots at Leopardstown: Quilixios, Appreciate It and Monkfish? All won – and doubtless were popular in trebles.

But no.

Instead, two of the three were running at Musselburgh, another at Southwell.

Few people in Ireland have even heard of Fire Away (1.25 Musselburgh), Blowing Dixie (2.35 Southwell) and Gallahers Cross (4.25 Musselburgh). Among those who had were the bookmakers’ traders who, perfectly reasonably, chalked up the horses at big prices on Saturday evening.

The three have different owners and different trainers. Even in these days where odds compiling is in danger of becoming a thing of the past, there was no way whatever a bookmaker, regardless of how many hours of work he put in, could have predicted the three being so heavily gambled on in multiples on Saturday evening.

The plan was born in Ireland but the British firms were badly hit. A representative of one said late Saturday: “We laid the three horses at 25/1, 18/1 and 16/1 and look at what prices they are now.”

At that point, the three apparent rags were each much closer to even money. A quick check on the calculator illustrated why the bookmakers were fretting so much: a single bet of a €100 trixie (three doubles and a treble) at the prices above would have resulted in just shy of a million had all three won.

Colin Vickers, chief steward at Musselburgh, is quoted in the Racing Post: “At the request of the BHA integrity department because of the unusual betting patterns, we did interview all three of the trainers [Laura Morgan, Iain Jardine and Daragh Bourke] and their comments will be forwarded on to the British Horseracing Authority head office to help with their further investigation.”

On his first start for trainer Laura Morgan, the eight-year-old Fire Away scored by a mere 19 lengths. Morgan said: “We’ve only had the horse for 11 days, having bought him from Daragh Bourke. He had a couple of horses for sale and I bought him.”

Fire Away bolted up. Blowing Dixie won readily. So it was all down to Gallahers Cross, trained, no less, by Daragh Bourke. Cantering three out, sent off odds-on, the horse looked highly likely to land a gamble that would have its place in racing’s history, but it was not to be, and he faded into fourth.

Bourke, on hand to watch the horse at the Scottish venue, refused to comment to the press afterwards.

Back on WhatsApp, my mates debated the episode and the repercussions for the image of the sport. “Part of the game is trying to figure out the right day for a horse,” said one.

“But what,” countered another, “if you’ve backed one of those horses in its last runs? It’s a terrible look for the sport.”

Over at Leopardstown, Willie Mullins could not care less about the exotic treble, since five was the magic number, or nine if you counted his four-timer on day one. A staggering haul of nine winners from 16 races at a Festival as competitive as this one is, unlike the Saturday-night plunge, nothing out of the ordinary for the great man.

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willie-mullins-celebrates-winning-the-paddy-power-irish-gold-cup-with-kemboy Willie Mullins celebrates winning the Irish Gold Cup Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Kemboy’s victory in the big one will have grated somewhat with Paul Townend, who rode the never-dangerous Melon, but it is hard to think he could have ridden him any better than Danny Mullins, nephew of the winning trainer, who was enjoying one of the biggest successes of a career that now looks more promising due to the retirement of his first cousin David, often an ally of Kemboy.

Mullins said: “That’s fantastic for Danny and his owners. I had Paul down on this guy and Patrick (Mullins) down to ride the other guy, but Paul said he’d like to ride Melon.”

danny-mullins-celebrates-winning-the-paddy-power-irish-gold-cup-on-kemboy Danny Mullins celebrates winning on Kemboy Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Monkfish had provided Mullins with another Grade 1 win in the novice chase under Townend, producing another display of jumping virtuosity. This gelding is a work of art in pretty much every sense, and, scarily, he is arguably getting better with experience.

Even Mullins was somewhat speechless: “What can you say after a performance like that?”

One was already thinking of Monkfish running in and winning a Gold Cup, including the jockey, who told Mullins he “thought he should be in the next race (the Irish Gold Cup)!”

paul-townend-celebrates-winning-the-flogas-novice-steeplechase-on-monkfish Paul Townend celebrates winning the Flogas Steeplechase on Monkfish. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Appreciate It was good in the novice hurdle, but the performance of runner-up Ballyadam will give rise to hope that he might reverse the form at Cheltenham, and the same connections’ Quilixious goes there on a high after taking then juveniles’ contest.

Charles Byrnes, who would have preferred not to be in the news over the Viking Hoard case recently, illustrated his prowess as a trainer when Off You Go took the handicap chase, Mark Walsh brilliant on a horse who has had jumping problems.

Byrnes has lodged an appeal against the decision of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board to suspend his licence for six months and fine him €1,000 after Viking Hoard tested positive for a banned substance. That appeal is heard on Tuesday.

“Obviously I can’t say much if the appeal is on Tuesday evening. Obviously it is very upsetting for myself and my family and racing in general,” he told RTÉ.

It was upsetting for bookmakers to wake up on Sunday morning to see what liabilities had built up on three low-key runners. Over in Ireland, someone was planning a coup.

And so was Willie Mullins.

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Johnny Ward

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