Not surprisingly, it was Willie Mullins who dominated the opening day of the Punchestown Festival with Ireland's champion trainer capturing all three Grade 1 events. The fast improving Echoes In Rain proved too strong for her rivals in the Champion Novice Hurdle under Patrick Mullins. A dual Grade 2 winner beforehand, the daughter of Authorized was too speedy for stablemate Blue Lord leading on the approach to the final flight before readily pulling clear. She has developed into a high-class mare in a short space of time.
Chacun Pour Soi was back to his best in the two miles Champion Chase showing he didn't run up to scratch at the Cheltenham Festival last month. Emphatically turning the tables on Nube Negra, the nine year old was prominent throughout and always appeared to be in control. Pulling clear on the home turn, Paul Townend's mount wasn't hard pressed to beat stablemate Allaho by five and a half lengths. I remember Rich Ricci telling me last year that the ex-French gelding is the best horse at Closutton and, on this evidence, it is difficult to argue. He needs to produce that level of performance at the Festival next March.
The three miles novice chase was billed as a match between Monkfish and Envoi Allen but the former's stablemate Coolreevy didn't read the script producing a career best effort. The daughter of Flemensfirth had won all four of her starts over fences beforehand, including Cheltenham Festival glory in March, and she made all under Danny Mullins. Despite a low jump at the last, she was in control by that stage. Monkfish didn't jump with his usual fluency and came under pressure after a mistake at the third last. Beaten eight lengths, he won the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase at Cheltenham but hasn't looked quite the same horse who won two Grade 1 novice events at Leopardstown during the winter.
As regards Envoi Allen, he didn't look happy from an early stage - it looked an effort to jump fences. Pulled up in the homestraight, the seven year old has failed to complete on his last two starts now. He has something to prove now and it will be interesting to see what Henry De Bromhead elects to do with him next Autumn. It wouldn't be a surprise if the six times Grade 1 winner reverted back to hurdles. Admittedly, it happened in unusual circumstances, but the worse thing that ever happened to Envoi Allen was being transferred from Gordon Elliott - it clearly hasn't done him any good whichever way you look at it.
The racing on the opening day of the Festival was excellent but the start to the Grade B handicap hurdle was a farce. First of all, I had a vested interest because Gentleman De Mee is featured in the Top 40 Prospects of One Jump Ahead. Having slipped up on the way to the start, unseated his rider and then run loose, it was surprising to say the least that the ex-French gelding was allowed to run. Secondly, he was positioned on the chase track while the runners came into line at the start and then set off at least fifteen lengths behind the front runners. It is therefore remarkable that Willie Mullins' horse managed to finish seventh and actually led soon after the hometurn. He is clearly a horse with a tremendous amount of ability but did his backers get a fair run for their money?
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