On an otherwise frustrating and disappointing day for Willie Mullins - 2 winners from 14 runners - the improving Kemboy provided Ireland's champion trainer with a much needed fillip by winning the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown. Rated 157, the six year old won the Clonmel Oils Chase on his reappearance but was then forced to miss the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury due to travel problems. Rerouted here instead, the Voix Du Nord gelding took over between the final two fences before staying on strongly to beat Monalee by seven and a half lengths. Mullins indicated afterwards that he may not be kept fresh for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. Fifth in the Neptune NH and fourth in the JLT Novices' Chase on his two previous visits to the Festival, his form figures over three miles plus are F11 with his non completion coming in the Irish National last spring.
Earlier in the day, Mullins had seen his former Champion Hurdle winner Faugheen fall at the second last in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle. The ten year old was running well but I suspect he would have struggled to reel in the top-class mare Apple's Jade. Thankfully, Ruby Walsh's mount got to his feet afterwards following a few worrying moments. It is hoped the nine times Grade 1 winner is retired now. As regards Apple's Jade, who crossed the line 26 lengths in front of her nearest pursuer, she is likely to be given entries in the Champion Hurdle, Mares' Hurdle and Stayers' Hurdle and I am sure Gordon Elliott will do the right thing by the daughter of Saddler Maker. Her Festival record is 213 having run below par in last season's Mares' Hurdle. I suspect she will line up in either the same race or the Stayers Hurdle. I will be surprised if she tackles the likes of Buveur D'Air - if she couldn't win the mares' race last season, she isn't going to win the Champion Hurdle. She is unbeaten in two races over three miles.
To round off a wretched day for Susannah and Rich Ricci both Elite Charboniere (9th) and Annamix (2nd) were beaten in maiden hurdles at Leopardstown and Limerick respectively. The latter has been ante-post favourite for the Skybet Supreme NH for the last two seasons and he was making his belated Irish debut. Even allowing for the fact the five year old was returning from an absence of 830 days, Annamix produced a lacklustre performance finding little for pressure after the second last. On this evidence, he looked anything but a Festival opener winner.
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